Edward Fitzgerald’s translation into English verse of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, the Persian astronomerpoet, was not a success when first published in 1859 by London bookseller Bernard Quaritch.
Produced at the translator’s expense in an edition of just 250 copies, it was slow to sell and two years on – having already lost some copies during a move – Quaritch consigned those remaining to the ‘Penny’ bin outside his shop. Some may later have been destroyed.
Then figures such as Rossetti and Swinburne began to sing the work’s praises. Surviving copies started to command higher and higher sums and, by 1868, a second edition of what was by then recognised as a poetic triumph had appeared.
Slighty soiled and frayed in original buff printed wrappers, now preserved in a cloth chemise and morocco gilt slipcase, the example of the original issue on offer at Bonhams sold for £14,000.
The other unlikely-looking high spot from the Knightsbridge sale is Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, an influential work of 1944 on the dangers inherent in government control of economic decision making and central planning that requires that “…the will of a small minority be imposed upon the people”.
In this case the initial print run of 2000 copies was quickly sold out, prompting a second printing within the month, but 30 years later Hayek was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics and his book has in recent times become very collectable.
The Bonhams copy, in a slightly faded and defective jacket, is a first issue and made £5000 – far more than anything previously recorded.