Top Single-Day Auction in PBA Galleries’ History

An auction where the highest priced lot, in this case a 1632 Second Folio edition of William Shakespeare, selling for $114,000, is something of an afterthought, does not occur very often. Yet such was the case at PBA Galleries’ auction of Rare Books & Manuscripts with Early Medical Works from the George Bray Collection. True, there were a few oohs and aahs when the cornerstone of English Literature was sold to a phone bidder. It was the second section of the sale, however, a selection of rare and important books on the medical sciences put together by Dr. George Bray over many years, which provided the spark and sizzle of the 196-lot auction.

The sale was held on Sunday morning, February 8th, 2015, in the same hotel as the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair. The start time was 8:00 am, scheduled so the auction would end before the bidders, many of whom were dealers exhibiting at the fair, would have to leave to tend their booths when the fair opened at 11:00 am.

An extremely rare inscribed presentation copy of James Lind’s seminal 1753 work, A Treatise of the Scurvy, suggesting that scourge of seamen could be alleviated by the addition of oranges, lemons and green vegetables their diet, was bid to an astonishing $66,000 in a battle of floor bidders. Other highlights in the Bray collection included Über die Erhaltung der Kraft by Hermann Helmholtz, 1847, the first comprehensive statement of the first law of thermodynamics, which sold for $27,000; William Harvey’s Du motu cordus & sanguinis in animalibus, 1636, the third edition of his groundbreaking work on circulation of the blood, which sold for $24,000; A Discourse Upon the Institution of Medical Schools in America, by John Morgan, published in Philadelphia in 1765, bid to $19,200 against an estimate of $6,000 to $9,000; and De honesta voluptate: et valitudine, by Bartholomaeus Platina, 1480, the third edition of the first published work on food and drink, being a guide to a healthy diet as well as a recipe book, was hammered down at $18,000.

The first section of the catalogue was more than just prelude to the Bray collection, comprising a broad spectrum of rarities old and new. Besides the second folio of Shakespeare, the high points included a ten-line fragment of an ink manuscript by Sir Isaac Newton on Christ's capacity to open "the sealed book" of Revelations, selling for $24,000; a first edition, first printing of James Joyce’s Ulysses, limited to 750 copies, bound in early blue cloth with the original wrappers included, fetching $12,000; a stunning calligraphic manuscript by Alberto Sangorksi of Rudyard Kipling’s poems “If” and “Recessional,” bound in full morocco by Riviere, splitting the estimate at $16,800; and the first American edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, an exceptional copy in the rare dust jacket, bringing $10,800.

The third section of the auction was comprised of more modest offerings, but for a good cause.  These final 47 lots were books donated by ABAA members and sold for the benefit of the Elisabeth Woodburn Fund, which provides financial support for scholarly research and education relevant to the antiquarian book trade.  Bidding was often spirited, and $10,000 was raised for the cause.

Overall, the sale results totaled just shy of $625,000, including the buyer’s premium. This was the highest total for a one-session auction in the history of PBA Galleries, eclipsed only by a two-day auction in 1998 of rare golf books.

PBA Galleries holds sales of fine, rare and collectible books every two weeks.  For more information regarding upcoming sales, consignments, or auction results, please contact PBA Galleries at (415) 989-2665 or pba@pbagalleries.com.

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