Auctions | October 12, 2011

Illustrated Fontaine Fables Highlights Bonhams Fall Auction

Los Angeles/New York - On October 10, collectors focused their attention on Bonhams highly anticipated Fine Books & Manuscripts auction.  Simulcast to New York, the Los Angeles-based sale was comprised of fine and rare first edition books, maps, manuscripts, ephemera and illustration art. Bonhams is proud to be the only auction house to offer bi-coastal previews to Books & Manuscripts clients.
Dr. Catherine Williamson, Department Director, Fine Books and Manuscripts at Bonhams, said of the auction: "It was a very good day for a sale, with bidders in the room, on the phone, and via the internet.  The large collection of early printed material offered in this sale attracted buyers from around the globe, pushing prices well above expectations."
The marquee lot of the fall sale was a fresh-to-market first edition of the Oudry-illustrated edition of La Fontaine's Fables (est. $15,000-20,000, sold for $122,500) 1755-59.   This copy is particularly rare and interesting as it was finely colored in the 18th century and heightened with gum arabic.
Williamson said of the book: "Colored copies of this title are exceedingly rare, especially in the present copy's condition.  The market responded accordingly."
Another finely hand-colored book in the sale was McKenney and Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America (est. $40,000-60,000, sold for $92,500), which is one of the most famous American color-plate books.  The idea of assembling the portraits of Native Americans, painted in Washington by Charles Bird King, into a publication was that of Thomas L. McKenney, who enlisted the Ohio writer James Hall to assist with the project. Various setbacks occurred during the process, but the pair produced what is considered by many to be one of the most distinctive and important books in Americana.
Strength in American depictions of the West continued throughout the sale with a fascinating album of watercolors and sketches by J. Bridgham, done on his travels through the West in 1887 and during his visit to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1886. The most interesting group is certainly the eight portraits of Apache Indians being held prisoner at Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos) in St. Augustine. These were the Apaches that surrendered along with Geronimo in Arizona that same year. Other illustrations contained within the album included depictions of Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1887 during the Centennial Celebration; the Humboldt Sink in Nevada and the plains nearby; Green River, Wyo.; scenes in the Arizona desert; a portrait of "an old squaw" in Arizona; and other unidentified views. Bridgham was a skilled amateur and his renderings include much of interest (est. $8,000-12,000, sold for $22,500).
A fascinating assortment of photographs of Iran and Iraq from late 19th-early 20th centuries that seem to have been collected by an American missionary family who lived in Tabriz, highlighted the photographs section of the sale. Rarely seen early subject matter includes the Shah of Iran's grounds and palace (interior and exterior), numerous rulers and chiefs, bastinado scenes, scenes of the bazaar in Tabriz, various types of Iranian residents including dervishes, musicians, a dentist, Armenians and Kurds. The album also includes views along the Tigris River, ruins of Persepolis, landmarks in Mosul, Tehran and Baghdad, group photographs of the missionary family, their church in Tabriz, the Armenian school, the "girl's school" and Shaw Memorial Boy's School in Tabriz, and much else of interest (est. $3,000-5,000, sold for $22,500).
Highlighting the early printed books section of the auction was a first edition of the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel, one of the most lavishly illustrated books of the 15th century (est. $20,000-30,000, sold for $56,250). The highly sought after volume contains approximately 1,809 woodcut illustrations printed from 645 blocks.
The artists Wohlgemut and Pleydenwurff are mentioned in the colophon; at the time they were producing the cuts, Albrecht Dürer was apprenticed to Wohlgemut's studio.  The illustrations were, in fact, the catalyst for the project. The two artists approached Anton Koberger with the idea for the "Chronicle," and, by securing sponsors, persuaded him to undertake the printing. Some 2,000 copies were printed in Latin, followed five months later by a German language edition of the same size.
Additional early printed works included an original leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (est. $30,000-50,000, sold for $56,250) and Albrecht Dürer's masterpiece on proportion, titled Hierinn sind begriffen vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion (est. $25,000-30,000, sold for $47,500).
Later items of note included a large and striking original illustration by Arthur Rackham from The Rhinegold & the Valkyrie published in 1910 depicting Brunhilde before she is awakened by the hero Siegfried (est. $20,000-30,000, sold for $31,250).