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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Under the Sun

From Herbarium to Herbal

Sixteenth-century botanical manuscript compiled by Gherardo Cibo, £337,250 ($539,600) at Christie’s London on July 5.

In this manuscript, Cibo’s pen drawings stand in for the dried plant samples more widely used in herbariums. Courtesy of Christie’s.

A botanical highlight of the summer was seen not at a regular book sale, but in an ‘old master’ drawings sale. This was a vellum bound sketchbook of just twenty-two leaves, on which were exhibited twenty-four chalk, ink, and watercolor drawings of plants, along with descriptions of their properties and a few additional sketches related to their decorative elements.

Cibo (1512-97), was a member of an aristocratic Genoese family who had studied botany in Bologna with Luca Ghini, the compiler of the first known herbarium and founder of Europe’s first recorded botanical garden.

In later life, he took to coloring up the woodcuts in his own botanical books, elaborating them with exquisite landscape backgrounds, but more significantly he pursued his own botanical studies and may have recorded his observations in sketchbooks such as this.

Renaissance botanical studies focussed on providing a guide to the medicinal properties of plants, and in this sketchbook Cibo seems to have been creating his own herbal, with delicately-washed pen drawings standing in for the dried plant samples used by his teacher, Ghini, in his 1544 herbarium. As a forerunner of the great vernacular printed herbals that were to follow, the manuscript was of enormous historical interest.

“Detestable and Infamous”

To the Commissioners Appointed by the East-India Company, for the Sale of Tea, in America, $32,500 at Sotheby’s New York on June 17.

This 1773 broadside brought in nearly ten times its low estimate at auction. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Revolutionary period material sold in the U.S. this summer included this printed broadside of 1773. In a blistering attack, the anonymous writer Scaevola warns those who style themselves Stamp Masters or Tea Commissioners, “If you are appointed to enforce the Revenue Act in America, any titles you may assume to yourselves, in the execution of your office, will prove detestable and infamous.”

Most, as Scaveola urged in his broadside—initially published in Philadelphia but reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies—did in fact resign their posts, leaving tea on the docks or simply unloaded. In Boston, of course, the appearance of this broadside in The Boston-Gazette & Country Journal for October 25, 1773, may well have played a part in fomenting the Boston Tea Party.

Shakespeare lends a Hand

William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen, £32,450 ($53,250) at Christie’s London on June 8.

Title page for Shakespeare’s posthumously published play, The Two Noble Kinsmen. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Copies of the first and third Folio editions of Shakespeare’s plays carrying six-figure estimates will be sold by Sotheby’s New York this month (in an October 20 sale of the second portion of The Library of an English Bibliophile mentioned elsewhere in these reports), but summer sales also produced something special at more modest, five-figure level.

This was an ex-Roxburghe Library copy of the 1634, first and only quarto edition of the Bard’s late return to writing for the stage, his collaboration with John Fletcher (of Beaumont & Fletcher fame) on The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, this tragi-comedy was first produced c. 1613-14, but was not included in the first folio of 1623, nor in any of the three folio editions that followed. It is rarely performed nowadays, and in fact is often missing from quite recent collected editions. Modern scholars have identified Shakespeare as the author of Act I, Act II Scene I, and Act V.

In a nineteenth-century Bedford binding of gilt panelled red morocco, this copy was in 1812 offered as part of the forty-two-day sale by which London auctioneers R. H. Evans dispersed the library of John Ker, third Duke of Roxburghe.

On that occasion, when the Roxburghe copy of the 1623 first folio sold for £100, this single work sold for six shillings and sixpence (say sixty cents at today’s rates), but when it was last seen at auction twenty years ago, at the Sotheby’s New York sale of the Richard Manney library, the price had risen to $9,000.

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