Auctions | October 14, 2014

Private Press, Italian Futurism, and Russian Avant-Garde at Bloomsbury Auctions


London—The Fletcher Collection of master draughtsman Rex Whistler, The Morris Baumann Collection of Private Press and an important and comprehensive private collection of Italian Futurism will go under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auctions’ 20th Century Books and Manuscripts sale on 23rd October. Also on offer is an impressive collection of modern first editions including ‘The Great Gatsby’ with Francis Cugart’s rare dust jacket and H. G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’, signed by the author.

Opening the sale is The Fletcher Collection (lots 1-93), arguably the finest collection of Rex Whistler’s (1905-44) work to ever come to market, it pays testament to the extraordinary abilities of Whistler as a draughtsman, including his designs for dust-jackets, book illustrations, murals, theatre designs and crockery. Whistler displayed his remarkable talents from a young age, as is evident from Whistler’s A Couple in a Four Poster Bed (1921) [lot 1, Est. £1,000-1,500], given by a 16 year old Whistler to his school nurse. Many of the items in the collection contain special designs from Whistler to his broad circle of friends such as Stephen Tennant, Cecil Beaton and his lifelong friend Edith Oliver. Further highlights include Whistlers’ Design for Curtain for Operatic Pills [lot 24, Est. £1,500-2,000] and Proofs of engravings for Gulliver’s Travels [lot 35, Est. £750-1,000]. Whistler's proofs of his engravings for Gulliver’s Travels are covered in his extensive and detailed notes to the colourists and give an insight into his attention to detail.

Kevin Fletcher said about is collection: “This collection began some forty years ago with my father’s purchase of one of the ten copies of the Cresset Press Gulliver’s Travels on vellum. Many aspects of that book bewitched us both, and we began adding other works by Whistler, substituting better copies as they appeared. Collecting has given us enormous pleasure, not only in the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction of acquisition, but in the continuing revelation of the multifaceted genius that was Rex Whistler. And now is the time to share”.

Continuing the sale, The Morris Baumann collection of private press (lots 126-158) contains many of the greatest works from the private presses at the turn of the century, including The Bible (Doves Press), the only folio printed by Cobden-Sanderson and the magnum opus of the Doves Press [lot 129, Est. £3,000-4,000], Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (Golden Cockerel Press) [lot 138, Est. £2,500-3,500] and The Works of Chaucer (Kelmscott Press), arguably the greatest of all private press books. It was begun by Morris in 1891 and finally issued in June 1896, a few weeks before his death [lot 147, Est. £15,000-20,000].

Following the Private Press section is one of the most important and comprehensive private collections of Italian Futurism to have ever appeared at auction (lots 194-301). Marinetti, Cangiullo, Corra, Buzzi & Carrà are just some of the featured futurists whose works coined the 'parole in libertà', 'aerpoittura' and 'guerrapittura' movements of Italian Futurism. The collection includes 'manifesti', periodicals, early futurism and some proof sheets of works by Marinetti and Cangiullo.


Works of particular note include an extremely rare and important example of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's famous Futurist Manifesto ‘Le Futurisme’ with autograph highlighting by Marinetti himself. The article's publication in leading Parisian newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ marked the official birth of Futurism [lot 194, Est. £8,000-10,000]. Also included is an excellent example of the playful experimentation of the Futurist movement and their willingness to transform and shape design and typography with Francesco Cangiullo’s Caffeconcerto [lot 247, Est. £600-800] and Tristan Tzara's periodical that lay the foundations of Dadism, an excellent and scarce run of the first seven numbers of the highly important Dada magazine, featuring contributions by Prampolini, Janco, Aragon, Pound, Ribemont Dessaignes, Eluard and Breton, including designs by Francis Picabia [lot 291, Est. £15,000-20,000].

The Russian Avant-Garde and Futurism section (lots 306-403), features important 20th century Russian works and some of the preeminent Russian authors and artists of the early 20th century, including the Hylaea group’s defining manifesto, Poshchechina Obshchestvennomu Vkusu [A Slap in the Face of Public Taste] [lot 327, Est. £2,000-3,000], works featuring the linguistic experiments of ‘zaum’ including Nikolai Nikolaievich Aseev’s Zor [Vision] [lot 319, Est. £1,500-2,000] and Viktor Vladimirovitch Khlebnikov's 1922 publication Zangezi [lot 339, Est £300-400], alongside other titles by the major Russian Futurists, such as Vladimir Mayakovsky (lots 311-315, 343 & 352) and Aleksei Kruchenykh (lots 342-345), as well as avant-garde illustrators Aleksander Rodchenko (lots 313, 314, 340 & 368), Kazimir Malevich (lots 310 & 342) and Gustav Klutsis (lots 330, 344 & 345).

The Modern First Editions section of the sale contains a plethora of rare work including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—with a dust-jacket design by Francis Cugat. The iconic design by Cugat is without question one of the most recognised and renowned jacket designs in modern literature, embodying and capturing the spirit of the novel perfectly. The artwork even contributed to the book's composition, as evidenced in a letter written by Fitzgerald to his publisher: "For Christ's sake don't give anyone that jacket you're saving for me. I've written it into the book" [Lot 420, Est. £60,000-80,000].

Also in the Modern First Editions section is lot 479—A signed copy of H.G.Wells' science fiction classic The Time Machine with an interesting account from the original owner of when it was signed by the author:

"He declared it to be a first edition, and one of the rarer because it was not only an early book but 'only 2,000 to 3,000 were printed'. He had been signing menu cards in pencil - 'this calls for ink' he said, and I borrowed a pen for him. He examined the book very closely even to the publisher's name on the last page, and remarked upon its excellent condition. His interest was evident. Amongst other things he told of an old lady who collects his first editions and always brings old ink with her when she asks him to sign, the idea being that modern ink fades" [Lot 479, Est. £4,000-6,000].

20th Century Books and Manuscripts will be held in the Bloomsbury Auctions’ Mayfair saleroom in London at 10.30am on Thursday 23rd October 2014. To view the catalogue online and for additional images of the lots, please visit

First image: Rex Whistler, A Couple in a Four Poster Bed (1921) [lot 1, Est. £1,000-1,500]

Second image: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Le Futurisme [lot 194, Est. £8,000-10,000]