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All We Are Saying

The Surrealist Manifesto, part of the Surrealist collection that sold for $5.6 million altogether.

Surrealist Manifesto

$3,000,000 (Euros 1,898,534)

Sotheby’s Paris, May 21, 2008

Estimate: $500,000–$800,000
(Euros 300,000–Euros 500,000)

20th-Century Autograph Manuscript

#3André Breton’s 21-page Surrealist Manifesto outlined the principles of one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century. The Manifesto was bid to $3 million when it came on the block along with eight other Breton manuscripts. (Also among them were Poisson soluble, a collection of 32 texts in which Breton experimented with the creative Surrealist process he called “pure psychic automatism.”) The French do things differently, and after accepting bids on the nine documents separately, Sotheby’s offered the whole group to anyone prepared to pay more than the total achieved in separate bids.

Several telephone bidders took part, but it was French collector Gérard Lhéritier, founder of the privately-owned Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris, who, with the help, he said, of other collectors and patrons, was finally successful in ensuring that the manuscripts would stay together in France. He paid $5.6 million for the eight lots. IM

Marco Polo

$1,387,000 (£937,250)

Sotheby’s London, December 3, 2008

Estimate: $300,000–$450,000 (£200,000–£300,000)

14th-Century Manuscript

#4One of the year’s more expensive medieval manuscripts of European origin was the so-called “Courtenay Compendium,” a late 14th-century English collection of tracts that included a number of items on Near and Far Eastern history. The most significant of these was the only substantial manuscript account of Marco Polo’s travels to have come to auction for some 80 years. The Swiss-based manuscript dealer, Dr. Jörn Günther, bought the compendium. IM

Qur’an Manuscript

$1,364,000 (£692,500)

Christie’s London, April 8

Estimate: $400,000–$400,000 (£200,000–£300,000)

16th-Century Qur’an

#5Very few known copies of the Qur'an are completed entirely in nasta'liq, a script associated with Persian manuscripts, and to find an Arabic text such as the Qur'an in this script is extraordinary. The only Safavid nasta’liq Qur’an ever likely to come onto the market, it was probably made in Tabriz (Iran) c.1540-50. It is signed Mir Hussein al-Sahavi al-Tabrizi.

A leaf from one of the Sisto Choirbooks sold for $1,014,000.

Italian Choirbooks


Christie’s London, November 12

Estimate: $750,000–$950,000 (£480,000–£600,000)

15th-Century Northern Italian Choirbooks

#6This richly illuminated, eight-volume set of manuscript choirbooks was made for the Benedictine abbey of San Sisto at Piacenza. Their large size was dictated by the need for all members of the choir to see them, but it also made them ideal platforms on which to display the wealth and status of those who commissioned them, and of the religious institutions that housed them. In later years that same great size and splendor made the choirbooks targets for dismantling and sale as individual illuminations. In 1810, when San Sisto was threatened with suppression during Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, one of the monks hid 14 of these choirbooks in his family’s home, and there they remained until his descendants rediscovered them over 50 years later. Though twice sold as a group, the choirbooks were eventually dispersed at auction in Leipzig in 1897. One has since vanished but others ended up in institutional collections. This group of eight was owned by the Hispanic Society of America in New York. IM

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