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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Regal Russians

19th-Century Ceremonial Books, Christie’s & Sotheby’s London


Coronation album, Tsar Alexander III, 1883.

Kondakov's Byzantine enamels, 1891.

Sumptuous coronation albums have been a high-priced feature of Russian sales in the past, and though the booming Russian market has quieted down a little bit of late, they still tempt the big spenders. The stunning plate reproduced here, showing royal guests looking down at the city from a Kremlin balcony, is taken from an album celebrating the 1883 Moscow coronation of Tsar Alexander III and the Empress Maria Feodorovny. Illustrated with 27 chromolitho plates and two portraits, this record of the ceremonies and events was printed in a small edition for distribution among members of the royal family and visiting foreign dignitaries. In a magnificently gilt-decorated cloth binding, this example of the scarcer, Russian-language version of the album sold at £73,250 ($112,075) at Christie’s on November 26.

Nikodim Pavlovich Kondakov’s Histoire et Monuments des Emaux Byzantins [Istoriia i pamiatniki Vizantiiskoi emali] of 1891 is another of the more sumptuous and expensively produced Russian works of the 19th century. In fact, according to Vengerov’s Old Russian Books, it “has no equals either in terms of workmanship or in terms of the funds involved...it cost 120,000 roubles in gold by the exchange rate for 1892.” Six hundred copies were produced—200 each in French, Russian and German—all intended for presentation rather than sale.

Illustrated with 31 chromolitho plates, it is a record of the A.V. Zvenigorodsky collection of medieval Byzantine enamels that were later acquired by J.P. Morgan and are now in the Metropolitan Museum. As well as the fine illustrations, it boasted a richly gilt morocco binding protected by both an embroidered silk brocade dust-jacket and a silk-lined case. The copy seen here sold at Christie’s for £49,250 ($75,355) to London dealer Bernard Shapero, while at Sotheby’s on the previous day, another copy that lacked the elaborate bookmark as well as the outer box, sold to a Russian dealer for £31,250 ($47,815).

Before Alexandria

Teenage Verse by Lawrence Durrell, Sotheby’s, £19,200

Lawrence Durrell’s prime literary memorial is the group of four novels, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea (1957-60), that make up the Alexandria Quartet, but Durrell’s first book was a youthful collection of poems called Quaint Fragment that was not formally published but printed in very small numbers in 1931 by his friend Cecil Jefferies.

Durrell later recalled “...[he] bought a hand press and asked me to give him something to practise with; poems were easier than prose so I gave him an old notebook with roughs. Title was his. We took two pulls I think before the type was dispersed. One copy was bound.”

The distinguished British bookseller Alan Thomas, who compiled the bibliography for G.S. Fraser’s 1968 Lawrence Durrell: A Study, said that Durrell’s statement that only a single copy was bound was exaggerated, noting that “three or four have passed through the antiquarian book market in the last 10 years, and one copy, left behind in Corfu, was destroyed.”

It is nevertheless a very rare item and since the 1960s only two copies have been seen in the salerooms. In 1977, the Goodwin copy sold for $3,850 at Sotheby’s New York, and in 1990, the Bradley Martin copy made $36,300 in the same rooms. Eighteen years later another was offered at Bloomsbury Auctions in London on December 10.

Uncut in the original, bronze paper-backed crimson cloth, and with an actual photograph of Durrell as a frontispiece, it sold at £19,200 ($28,415) to modern literature specialist Rick Gekoski.

Hurtful to Hippo

Thomas Boteler’s African Narrative, Bonhams Oxford, £984


Boteler's African Narrative, 1835

This illustration of an ingenious if rather optimistic method of disabling or making a hippopotamus extremely cross comes from an 1835 first edition, in original cloth, of Thomas Boteler’s Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery to Africa and Arabia... that sold for £984 ($1,465) at Bonhams Oxford on December 3. In one of four lithographed plates produced by T.M. Baynes and printed by Hullmandel for the book, we see the unsuspecting hippo about to stumble into the rope stretched across his watery path. When this happens, a stick carefully balanced across the branch of the dead tree will be pulled free of the ring that holds a heavy section of tree trunk–a dead weight into which is set a nasty spearhead.

Boteler was an officer on HMS Leven, which, with HMS Barracouta, was one of two vessels that undertook an 1821-26 survey voyage up the East African coast under the overall command of William Wentworth Owen, whose own account of the voyage had been published two years earlier.

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