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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
On The Block

Up, Up, and Away

By Ian McKay

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

Compiling a preview piece well in advance of the projected sales is not easy. For many a saleroom, cataloguing is still in hand, even if they are not still waiting to see what comes along, and in some cases there are bare details but no illustration. Christie’s New York, for example, will be offering a very rare copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s first book on December 4, when in the second part of the William Self collection they offer a copy of Tamerlane and other Poems, printed for the author, ‘A Bostonian’, in that very city in 1827. Tamerlane is now one of truly great rarities of American literature and Christie’s are looking for something in the region of $500,000-700,000—but I fear I was just too early off my marks for a picture.

Nevertheless, my request to salerooms around the world has provided me with a pretty good mix. I have ballooning and aeronautical collections from both sides of the Atlantic; fencing books from Holland; rare maps and natural history collections from Germany and England; Petrarch and Picasso—and even Charles Dickens’ toothpick!

Ruined by a Passion for Flowers!

Temple of Flora, Sotheby’s (London), $65,000-98,000

Robert John Thornton’s Temple of Flora accompanied by prose and verse text was intended as a pictorial celebration of the sexual system of Linnaeus. The selection of colored, printed, and hand-finished aquatint and mezzotint plates issued in the years 1799-1807 were a technical and artistic triumph, but the expense Thornton incurred in their production exhausted his personal fortune and bankrupted him. Nowadays they are one of the great botanical prizes.

Plate counts and states vary from copy to copy, usually around 30, but at the time of writing Sotheby’s had not completed the cataloguing for their November 10 sale.

En Garde—Fencing in Amsterdam

A fencing plate from Domenico Angelo’s 1763 L’ecole des armes….

L’ecole des armes…, AABP Auctions, $5,700-8,550

AABP Auctions, an Amsterdam-based book and print auction house founded only last year, is new to me. Founder Piet van Winden tells me his October 24-25 sale will include an important collection of some 250 books on fencing, the earliest of them dated to 1531.

The plate reproduced here comes from a 1763 first of Domenico Angelo’s L’ecole des armes…, an oblong folio work which despite its French title was published in London. Angelo Domenico Malevolti dropped the last part of his name when he came to England to be a fencing master to members of the English royal family. In all, this celebrated work contains 47 fully colored engraved plates of fencing positions after a number of different artists.

Great Expicktations!

Charles Dickens’ toothpick and green crushed morocco box.

Charles Dickens’ Toothpick, Bonhams (New York), $3,000-$5,000

“I certify that this ivory and gold tooth pick was always used by my brother-in-law Charles Dickens when travelling and on his last visit to America and until the time of his death at Gads Hill on the 9th June 1870.” So reads the autograph note, signed by Dickens’ sister-in-law, housekeeper, literary editor (and some would have us believe, lover) Georgina Hogarth that accompanies the little ivory and gold toothpick by Sampson Mordan & Co. of London. Engraved with the writer’s initials and preserved in a green crushed morocco box by the renowned binders Sangorski & Sutcliffe. It will be offered by Bonhams in a December 15 New York sale.

Petrarch’s Illuminated Triumphs

I Trionfi, Christie’s (London), $488,000–650,000

Among illuminated manuscripts already scheduled for sale in the coming season is a beautiful vellum manuscript of Petrarch’s Italian allegorical poem, I Trionfi. Illumination and decoration include a full bordered opening folio. It contains a miniature of Laura crowning the author and, in the two roundels, depictions of Apollo and Daphne and the arms of Giulio Visconti. The manuscript, which also features four miniatures of the Triumphs by an artist known as the Master of the Birago Hours, was produced in Milan in the mid-15th century. In a 19th century Bedford binding of blind-stamped and paneled brown morocco, it will be offered by Christie’s in their November 24 sale.

A lithograph from Picasso and the Human Comedy: A Suite of 180 Drawings….

Picasso and the Human Comedy

Picasso and the Human Comedy …, Swann Galleries, $15,000-25,000

With text provided and edited by Michel Leiris, Picasso and the Human Comedy: A Suite of 180 Drawings…was a double issue of the famous art journal Verve that appeared in 1954. Offered by Swann Galleries on November 18, it comes complete with the separate portfolio of lithographs signed by the artist.

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