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Dr Plesch conceived the foundation not only as a repository for rare books, but also for rare plants, and the library he built was not only a collection of great rarities, but the working library of a serious botanical garden as well.

In 1975-76, following Dr Plesch’s death, that superb library, unequalled anywhere outside the the great museum and institutional collections, came to sale at Sotheby’s, who in their enthusiasm for the great event – albeit restrained by today’s hyperbolic standards – could not resist quoting the words of Bunthorne in Patience in the catalogue...

Come, walk up, and purchase with avidity,
Overcome your diffidence and natural timidity,
Tickets for the raffle should be purchased with avidity...
Such an opportunity may not occur again

Many did of course take the opportunity to buy, at what now seem giveaway prices. Robert de Belder secured many of the finer books and when those opportunities did actually occur again, in the de Belder sale itself at Sotheby’s in 1987, and again ten years on, in the Christie’s New York sale of an anonymously formed library that contained a great deal that had once been de Belder, the name of Arpad Plesch figured prominently among the provenances of the best books.

Not everything, however, comes back to the major international rooms. On February 22, the book section of a sale held by Neales of Nottingham included the Arpad Plesch copy of Sir Joseph D. Hooker’s Illustrations of Himalayan Plants... of 1855, which contains 24 magnificent hand-coloured lithographs by Walter Hood Fitch. The original drawings were made by J.F. Cathcart of the Bengal Civil Service, who also helped finance the publication and wished to see it distributed free to the principal botanists and scientific institutions of Europe. Sadly Cathcart died on his way back to England in 1851, but his family and others took up the cause and Hooker’s second book on Himalayan plants duly appeared in 1855.

The Plesch copy, bound in later half green morocco gilt by Rivière and bearing his red morocco label on the front pastedown (left) – and (according to the 1975 Sotheby’s catalogue), that of George Canning, Governor-General of India from 1856-62 and perhaps one of the original 176 subscribers – had been sold for £650 in 1975, but was this time knocked down to Maggs at £19,500.

Buyer’s premium: 15 per cent