A RECORD DAY AT SOTHEBY'S
THE following notes may be of interest as a record of how a sale is conducted. The library, collected by Wm. C. Van Antwerp, of New York, was sold at Sotheby's, 22 and 23 March, 1907. The sale began at 1 p.m. sharp.(¹)
One was impressed by the extremely decorous character of the proceedings, without the slightest noise or bluster such as one is accustomed to think of in connexion with sales. The auctioneer, Mr. Tom Hodge, presided at a raised desk at the end of an oblong table about which were seated some twenty buyers, the principals or the representatives of the leading English booksellers. Around the room were twenty-five or thirty onlookers, mostly seated, a few standing about. Bids were offered only by the dealers and by a man who held a catalogue marked with the bids sent directly to the firm. The auctioneer, with a soft voice and a good-natured manner, called out the numbers and, as a rule, offered no comments upon the books; in fact, he did not often have to ask for a bid, which was started spontaneously. Occasionally, of course, he could not resist a remark or two. Sometimes he would suggest a bid. It was astonishing with what rapidity the different items were sold. Evidently the dealers knew just what they wanted and what they were willing to pay, and in many cases one could easily see that they had been given a limit by those who had sent the orders.
The first work of special interest sold was the 1817 edition of poems of Keats, a presentation copy, with an inscription by the author. Starting at £20 it rose quickly to £70 and £80 and in less than a minute was knocked down to Quaritch at £90. I say knocked down, but the process was altogether too dignified for such an expression, and no final rap was ever given. The catalogue of the Rowfant Library brought £7. Two books of Richard Pynson's press brought high figures. It was remarkable, also, to see a ragged, rough-looking, unbound, but uncut play of Philip Massinger knocked down to Stevens at £48. Bidding upon the copy of 'Comus', one of the rarest of Milton's works, was started by Quaritch at £50 and ran up pound by pound with the greatest rapidity to £100, and finally to £162. Nothing was heard but the monotonous repetition of the figures by the auctioneer, who simply watched the nodding heads of Mr. Quaritch and his rival, Ellis of Bond Street. The 'Paradise Regained', an uncut copy and a great rarity in this state - so much so that the auctioneer remarked, 'Uncut, and need I say more? All you can ask!' - was secured at £94 by Maggs. Three beautiful first editions of some of Pope's works did not bring very high prices, though the 'Windsor Forest', in sheets loosely stitched together, entirely uncut, brought £48. One of the finest sets of the collection was ' Purchas his Pilgrimes, in five Books'. As the auctioneer remarked, 'It is one of the finest copies ever sold and Mr. Van Antwerp had had a most detailed and complete collation made'. The volumes were in the original vellum, absolutely perfect. Starting at £50, the fifth bid reached £100, and the set was knocked down to Maggs at £170 against Quaritch - one of the few instances in which Mr. Quaritch gave up. There was a splendid collection of Scott, the quarto volumes of the poems and first editions of the Waverley novels. Though the novels were in one lot, a complete set, in the original boards, uncut, and all from the Rowfant Library, option was given whether they should be sold separately or together. The latter was preferred, and, starting at £100, the bids quickly rose to £200, to £260, and the set was finally secured by Tregaskis at £300.
Then, after the sale of lot 189, came the remarkable set of original Shakespeare folios. Just as a foil, it seemed, and to show the contrast between the new and the old, Sidney Lee's facsimile reprint of the first folio, issued by the Clarendon Press in 1902, was put up (£2 12s). When lot 191 was called out, there was a stir among the auditors, not such as you could hear, but it could be felt, as the famous first folio of ' Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies' was offered. It was in a superb red morocco binding by Bedford and enclosed in a new crushed red morocco slip case by Bradstreet. In 'My Confidences', 1896, p. 203, Locker-Lampson tells the story of this volume: 'Some years ago I was offered a splendid example of this folio Shakespeare (1623); it was one of the tallest, largest and cleanest copies in existence, but it lacked the verses [i.e. the leaf with Ben Jonson's verses]. The owner guaranteed that if I would buy it he would before very long get me the missing leaf, and it was upon this assurance that I closed with him.' Then follows a most amusing account of a journey to the West of England to try to secure the leaf from an 'illiterate booby'. He spent two unhappy days with the 'grimy Gibeonite', who would not give up the leaf though the volume was much mutilated. Finally he found an example of the missing leaf pasted in a scrap-book, but he had to pay £100 for it.
'Language fails me, Sirs,' the auctioneer said, 'I can only ask you to look at the book and give your bids.' Special interest existed as to whether the record price of £3,000, paid by the Bodleian, would be exceeded, but the circumstances were then exceptional, as that copy had originally been in the Bodleian (see no. 5443 for its story). Previously as much as £1,720 had been paid for the first folio, and £3,000 was thought to be a fabulously extravagant price. I may remark that the folio would never have returned to the Bodleian had it not been for the extreme generosity of Lord Strathcona, who contributed £500. It cheered the book-lover's heart to hear Quaritch lead off with a bid of £1,000, followed immediately by the representative of Stevens with £1,500, and then the figures ran £1,800, £1,900, £2000, £2,400, £2,800, and at the £3,000 there was a pause. Stevens, thereupon, said ' Fifty ' and the previous record price was passed, then £3,200. At £3,500 Stevens stopped, and a record - long, let us hope, to remain such - was made when Quaritch secured it at £3,600.² Every one in the room applauded his victory.
The second folio brought only £210 (Stevens). The third folio brought £650, and the fourth £75. The quarto copies of the individual plays did not bring such very high prices as were realized the previous year. Sidney's 'Arcadia' brought £315. When Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels ' was offered it was stated that the signature of Oliver Goldsmith, 1766, was on the Lilliput title. Leighton spoke up and said that Goldsmith's name was not written in this copy when he had it, and he asked why it should be mentioned in the catalogue; to which the auctioneer replied, 'In order to make a proper copy of it'. It came from the Rowfant Library, and Leighton added 'I should know, as I sold it to Mr. Locker-Lampson'. There was much fun over this incident, but it did not diminish the liveliness of the bidding, which was started at £50, and the treasure was secured at £132 by Stevens.
When lot 235 was called, a man inside the arena held up a small octavo in its original sheep jacket - as Locker-Lampson says, a most commonplace, ordinary little book, but one of the great treasures of English literature and one that brings the highest price known in the auction room with the exception of the Shakespeare folio - 'WALTON (IZAAK) THE COMPLEAT ANGLER, or the CONTEMPLATIVE MAN'S RECREATION; being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing, not unworthy the perusal of most Anglers. Simon Peter said, I go a fishing; and they said, We also will go with thee (John xxi, 3), FIRST EDITION. sm. 8vo. Printed by T. Maxey for Rich. Marriot in S. Dunstan's Church-yard, Fleetstreet, 1653 . . . This copy has always been spoken of as one of the finest, if not the finest copy known. It is quite perfect and in the original state as issued. The late owner, Frederick Locker, has written a note or two in the fly-leaves.' The auctioneer remarked, 'It is impossible to over-estimate this copy, an absolutely unique and perfect specimen in the original binding. Not a copy like this has been in the sale room for many years.' Amid suppressed excitement the bidding began. Quaritch started at £200, and it ran to 500, 600, 700, 750, and £800. Then began a most interesting duel between Quaritch and the representative of Pickering and Chatto, and after a little while nothing was heard but the counting, which ran up the bids (I took them down verbatim) as follows: 30, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, £900; 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, £1,000; 10, 20, 30, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, £1,100; 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, £1,200. Here there was a halt, but Mr. Massey started bravely and 10, 20, 30 was reached, whereupon, to the auctioneer's sorrow, all stopped, and he said, 'Dear me! Dear me, Mr. Massey!', which encouraged him to go on - 40, 50, 60, 70, 80. When £1,290 was reached by Mr. Quaritch, the auctioneer said interrogatively, 'Come, Mr. Massey, £1,290?', and again, '£1,290? '; and when there was no reply, he simply said '£1,290, Mr. Quaritch', adding in a quiet voice, 'This is one of the numerous records we are making every day'. It was a remarkable increase over the £415 paid in 1896, which had hitherto held the record.
No other book-auction is so interesting as Sotheby's. A sale at the Hôtel des Commissaires- Priseurs (Hotel Drouot), Paris, has not nearly the same fascination. It is quietly conducted by an auctioneer with three clerks by his side and one below, who in a low tone repeats the bids. and the buyers, as in London, are chiefly dealers. On 22 October, 1908, I spent an hour at the sale of the fifth section of the library of the late Count A. W. The collection related chiefly to the history of France, and it was astonishing the very low prices which handsomely bound 17th.- and 18th. - century books fetched. A few hundred dollars would have furnished a fair-sized library with good bindings at any rate. It is strange what waifs books are; the most respectable volume may wander from its near relations and turn up in most questionable company. Three books in which I am interested were stranded between tomes of military art and moral philosophy: (1) Gesner's Fish book, the fine Zurich edition with 700 figures, 1585. Among all the dealers I was too shy to bid, but my regret was tempered by the thought of my fine 'Historia Animalium' in 3 volumes, picked up some time ago for 25 francs. (2} A fine copy of Cardan's 'Metoposcopie', 1685, the manuscript of which was found by Gabriel Naudé and published nearly one hundred years after the author's death. In the 800 figures of the human face the prognostic significance of every line is given, and you can predict the end of your friends and patients by the position of the warts and moles. It is what might be called a show book, useful to interest a group of students, and it illustrates an art which has possibilities much superior to palmistry. (3) Indagine's 'Introductiones', which I also possess, is chiefly valuable for the splendid portrait of the author. It is one of the early works on physiognomy and contains also the canons of judicial astrology.
¹ The second day's sale is described. The annotated catalogue is No. 7373. (EDITORS)
² This price seems not to have been surpassed at auction until 1921, when Quaritch paid £4,200 to be doubled the next year by Dr. Rosenbach's £8,600 and £5,400 for two copies at Sotheby's, 15 May, 1922. (EDITORS)
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