Catalan Incunabula Reaches $50,000 at Swann Galleries
New York—Swann Auction Galleries’ auction of Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books on Tuesday, October 17 garnered eager interest from bibliophiles, exceeding the sale’s high estimate and earning more than half a million dollars. In a focused offering with just more than 300 lots, 92% of works found buyers, with particularly active bidding for Bibles, incunabula, and early manuscript material.
The top lot of the sale was Lo libre del regiment dels princeps, Barcelona, 1480, a Catalan-language guide for princes by Aegidius Romanus, which sold for $50,000, above a high estimate of $15,000, a record for the work. The book, translated from the original Latin by Arnau Stranyol, is especially noteworthy as Catalan-language incunabula appear so infrequently at auction, and this appears to be the fourth work ever published in that language. Another highlight was the first edition in the original Greek of Herodotus’s Libri novem, an Aldine imprint published in 1502, which doubled its high estimate to sell for $30,000.Each of the 16 works in a dedicated section of Incunabula sold. Beyond the top lot, highlights included the second edition of Nicolaus Panormitanus de Tudeschis’s Lectura super V libris Decretalium, Basel, 1477, reaching $8,125, and Saint Hieronymus’s Epistolae, Venice, 1488, bound in a leaf from a manuscript choir book ($7,000).
All but one of the 35 offered Bibles found buyers, led by the first edition of the Bishop’s Bible, 1568, the most lavishly illustrated bible in English; the tome replaced the Great Bible for church use, and in the sale nearly doubled its high estimate to sell to a collector for $5,980. Psalterium Romanum…, 1576, a sammelband in handsome contemporary binding executed for a nun, also contains a ritual for baptisms and exorcisms, 1581, reached $2,000. One of few twentieth-century works in the sale was the 1913-14 Insel-Verlag limited-edition facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible in full, exuberant color on vellum, which sold for $7,000.
A popular section of early manuscript material was led by De claustro animae, a fourteenth-century manuscript in Latin on vellum by Hugo de Folieto, in which he uses the cloister as a metaphor for the soul ($28,750). A vellum leaf from a glossed Psalter in Latin, written in France in the twelfth century, nearly doubled its high estimate to reach $3,000. A beautifully illuminated French vellum bifolium from the calendar of a Book of Hours showing the months of January and June, executed in the later fifteenth century, sold for $5,250.
Medical highlights included Monstrorum historia, a 1642 collection of descriptions of monsters and medical mysteries, with more than 450 woodcut illustrations. The work was compiled by Ulisse Aldrovandi and published posthumously in Bologna ($7,000). Also of note was the first American edition of Nicholas Culpeper’s The London Dispensatory, 1720, the first herbal, pharmacopoeia and medical book published in colonial America, which sold for $11,250.
Tobias Abeloff, Specialist of Early Printed Books at Swann Galleries, noted that “There was unexpected interest in unusual items, such as a scarce 1691 edition of Officium defunctorum, or the Latin Office of the Dead, converted by an eighteenth-century owner into a bizarre personal scrapbook,” which reached $2,375, above an estimate of $100 to $200.
The next auction of Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books at Swann Galleries will be held in Spring 2018.
Image: Lot 163: Aegidius Romanus, Lo libre del regiment dels princeps, first edition in Catalan, Barcelona, 1480. Sold October 17, 2017 for $50,000. (Pre-sale estimate: $10,000 to $15,000).