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Auction Guide
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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
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Old World Auctions

Big Fish

An illustrated book on ichthyology reels in $165,000, a Hemingway-inscribed fishing book on the line, and other good catches

Fishes on the Grand Scale

Ichthyologie, ou histoire naturelle, générale et particulière des Poissons … by Marcus Elieser Bloch, $165,000 at Bloomsbury Auctions New York on October 13.

The plate reproduced here depicts Trachinus Draco, or the Common Weever. Courtesy of Bloomsbury.

Generally considered to be the finest illustrated work on fishes ever produced—even if some of the illustrations do veer towards the fanciful—this ichthyological masterwork contains 432 plates in all, by a variety of artists and engravers to accompany the descriptions provided by Bloch, a German physician. In this exceptional copy, many plates have been partly color-printed in red, brown, or orange before being finished in watercolors and heightened with gold, silver, and bronze to reproduce the metallic sheen in fish scales.

The six-volume set of Bloch’s Ichthyologie, bound in tree calf for the Duchesse de Berry. Courtesy of Bloomsbury.

Remarkably clean internally, this example has seen the twelve original folio parts, printed in Berlin in the years 1785-97, bound as six volumes in contemporary tree calf for the Duchesse de Berry, whose arms are found on the covers. Once in the Belgian Royal Library, it was last seen at auction at Christie’s in London in1982, when the dollar equivalent of its sterling selling price was just a shade over $22,000. This time it went to US dealer Graham Arader at a sum far in excess of anything previously seen at auction.

The Bloch set was just one of many spectacular natural history lots sold as part of the library of Richard Harris (with more to come in London on the 19th of this month), and it is worth noting that as a condition for getting the consignment, Bloomsbury had to agree to charge a buyers’ premium of just 10%, less than half of their normal start-up rate. But at this first Harris sale, which also included other plate books and Americana, the total of around $3 million had them smiling broadly at the end of the day nonetheless.

The Old Man and the Marlin

American Big Game Fishing by Eugene V. Connett, $24,000 at PBA Galleries of San Francisco on September 16.

American Big Game Fishing bound in blue morocco gilt in a deluxe limited edition. Courtesy of PBA Galleries.

What one might call ‘regular’ copies of this Derrydale Press limited edition of 1935 might make $1,500 at auction nowadays, but this was not only one of the fifty-six deluxe copies that Connett, founder of the press, had produced, it had a double Ernest Hemingway connection.

A pencil drawing of a marlin drawn by Lynn Bogue Hunt in a copy of American Big Game Fishing inscribed to Ernest Hemingway. Courtesy of PBA Galleries.

Like most other deluxe copies it was bound in full blue morocco gilt and contained an original signed drawing by Lynn Bogue Hunt, whose illustrations, along with photographs, form the pictorial content. As Ernest Hemingway had contributed a chapter on “Marlin off Cuba,” it was only to be expected that he would have a copy of this special edition, and loosely inserted in his copy was a pencil drawing of a hooked Marlin leaping from the water inscribed “To Ernest Hemingway, Lynn Bogue Hunt.”

But there was more. Hemingway later inscribed the book as a gift to his wife Pauline’s uncle, “To Uncle Gus [Pfeiffer] as a souvenir of the day we caught the first big tuna, with much gratitude and affection.”

This is only the third of these deluxe copies to have been landed this century, but even with that Hemingway link, not the most expensive. In 2007, angling auction specialists Langs of Boxborough, Massachusetts, got $26,240 for a copy in which the Hunt drawing was inscribed to Charles Lehmann. That sale saw a whole raft of high or record prices for deluxe Derrydale books, the biggest catch being one of just twenty-five deluxe copies of Preston J. Jennings’ A Book of Trout Flies of 1935, complete with mounted specimens, which weighed in at $89,600.

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