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In the News

"The Federalist" and Other Firsts at Heritage's Rare Books Auction in NYC

Dallas, Texas - A rare copy of The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written... read more

Time-Capsule Collection from the Virginia House Museum Comes to Freeman's

Philadelphia - Declared by the National Register of Historic Places to be “a noteworthy... read more

Waverly's Feb. 28 Auction Spotlights Presidential Material & First Editions

Falls Church, Virginia - A letter written by Abraham Lincoln in the early days... read more

Boston Athenaeum Announces Expansion

Boston—The Boston Athenæum, a distinguished and vibrant independent library and cultural institution, announces its... read more

NY International Antiquarian Book Fair Returns to Park Avenue Armory March 7-10

New York—The beloved New York International Antiquarian Book Fair (NYIABF) produced by Sanford L.... read more

Littmann Collection of German Expressionism & Avant-Garde at Swann March 5

New York-Swann Galleries’ March 5 auction boasts property from the Ismar Littmann Family Collection,... read more

"Lacock Abbey: Birthplace of Photography on Paper" Opens March 2

New York - Photography on paper was born in 1839 in England at Lacock... read more

The Morgan Announces the Restoration of J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library

New York-The Morgan Library & Museum announced today the exterior restoration of J. Pierpont... read more

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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Top Auction Sales

All We Are Saying

Colonial Wisdom

$537,000 (£264,500)

Some Helps for the Indians Shewing Them How to Improve Their Natural Reason … by Abraham Pierson

Sotheby’s London, March 13

Estimate: $100,000–$200,000 (£50,000–£80,000)

The key item in a collection of six short works bound in one volume.

#7Printed in 1658, this was one of the earlier books printed in what is now the United States, and until this copy was discovered, only one other example of this first edition was known. Like Eliot’s little Indian grammar (#5 in our Top Ten), Some Helps for the Indians…, a catechism prepared for use by Quiripi Indians of the New Haven Colony, was also the work of a Cambridge graduate and Puritan who had emigrated to Boston. Once again it emerged from the Shirburn Castle library of the Earls of Macclesfield and, like the Eliot grammar, reached a much higher than expected sum before selling to Maggs of London—perhaps acting for the same client. IM

Galileo’s Calculator


Le operazioni del compasso geometrico, et militare by Galileo Galilei

Christie’s New York, June 17
Estimate: $200,000–$300,000

Rare first edition of Galileo’s first book, printed in 1606.

#8Galileo’s first printed work describes one of his inventions, a calculating device that could be used by gunners to calculate the amount of gunpowder needed to fire a projectile a specific distance. Science historian Stillman Drake says that this instrument “revolutionized and democratised practical mathematics in the same way that the pocket calculator has done in our own time,” unsurpassed until the advent of the 19th-century slide rule. Just 60 copies of this explanatory pamphlet were privately printed in Galileo’s home and presented to patrons and purchasers of his compass. It is illustrated with 34 woodcut diagrams, though not with one of the compass itself—presumably in what proved to be a futile attempt to prevent it being copied.

Galileo himself had taken an earlier proportional compass developed by Commandino as the starting point for his far more capable instrument, but it was almost inevitable that others would try to steal his glory. Baldassare Capra translated Galileo’s tract into Latin under his own name, claimed priority in the invention and even had the gall to accuse Galileo of plagiarism. Galileo took legal action. All copies of Capra’s book were suppressed and he was disgraced and lost his university post. IM

17th Century Flowers

$423,600 (£217,250)

Hortus eystettensis by Basilius Besler

Christie’s London, June 4

Estimate: $400,000–$500,000 (£200,000–£250,000)

A fine copy of the most celebrated of all flower books, printed in 1613.

#9The 367 engraved plates that illustrate this most famous of all florilegia are a record of flowers in the gardens of a Prince Bishop of Eichstätt whose Willibaldsburg Castle residence had eight separate gardens, each with its own staff and each filled with flowers from Europe, Asia and even the Americas. That 500 colour varieties of tulip alone were grown gives an idea of the scale.

Besler, a Nuremburg apothecary, conceived this work, too, on a grand scale and for the life-size illustrations, boxes of flowers were sent to Nuremburg so that artists could work from fresh specimens before their drawings were transferred to copper plates by the best engravers. The 1613, first edition of 300 copies was issued in two formats. One, with descriptive text printed on the back of the plates, was to be sold through the usual trade channels. The other, produced on a creamier paper, was intended to be coloured for presentation by the bishop. The uncoloured example shown here seems to have been marketed ready bound in blind-tooled pigskin over pastepaper boards.

Six years after the Prince Bishop’s death came the outbreak of the Thirty Years War. His once magnificent gardens rapidly deteriorated and within 20 years had reverted to vegetable plots. The original drawings for Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis, which took 16 years to complete, have mostly survived and are now housed at the University Library in Erlangen. The copper plates were melted down in the Munich Royal Mint in 1817. IM

Ming Dynasty Calligrapher

$394,000 (元2,688,000)

Collected Works of Yan Zhenqing

China Guardian, Beijing, November 11

Estimate: $125,000–$150,000 (元800,000–1,000,000)

Ming dynasty calligraphic book from moveable type.

#10In the decades before Johannes Gutenberg printed his first Bible in the 1450s, printers in Asia had perfected moveable type. Due to the complexities of the written languages, these pioneering printers first used carved wooden blocks. Perhaps the oldest surviving book printed this way is the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist text from 868 a.d. Printing from moveable type carved in wood originated in China a few hundred years later, in the late 13th century, and collectors avidly pursue all of these early printed books. One or two early Chinese books always land on the Fine Books list of priciest auction sales. This year's entry is a six-volume collection of works of a great Chinese calligrapher, printed from moveable wooden type during the Ming Dynasty.

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Scott Brown is the founding editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine and currently owns Eureka Books in Eureka, CA.

Derek HayesIan McKay’s weekly column in Antiques Trade Gazette has been running for more than 30 years.