Of the 67 lots offered, 17 failed to sell and among them were four lots carrying six-figure estimates, which meant that even the low-estimate total for unsold works amounted to $820,000. Some others fell short of estimate, but there were successes too and the 50 sold lots raised $1.83m (£1.38m) in all.
The odd record was also broken, as was the case with the earliest item in the essentially chronological selection that follows, a Dodart …Histoire des Plantes of 1676 (see illustration above for details).
Allen’s copy of Jakob Christoph Trew’s sumptuous florilegia, Hortus Nitidissimis… of 1750-86, failed against a valuation of $200,000-300,000. However, though it too fell some way short of expectations, an uncut example of Trew’s Plantae selectae of 1750-73, together with the supplement issued some 20 years after his death by Benedict Christian Vogel, did sell at $140,000 (£106,060).
Five works by Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin featured in the Allen sale, but the most distinguished of them, the ex-De Belder copy of his greatest work on cultivated flowers, Plantarum rariorum… of 1797-1804, was left unsold on an estimate of $180,000- 250,000. In 1987 it had sold for £80,000 at Sotheby’s and 10 years later made $130,000 (then £79,300) at Christie’s New York.
In the 1997 sale it had been part of a library formed by a collector who had been a major buyer at the De Belder sale and was only later identified as American financier and philanthropist Ladislaus von Hofmann (1927-2014). Hofmann’s magnificent ‘Arcana’ collection of illuminated manuscripts was also sold by Christie’s, in 2010-11.
Two other Jacquin lots did, however, make mid and high-estimate sums. Bid to a record $75,000 (£56,820) was the ex-De Belder/ Hoffman copy of the similarly titled but earlier Icones plantorum rariorum of 1781-95. In the sales already noted above it had made £32,000 and $55,000 (then £33,550).
The reputation of this work, no other copy of which has sold at auction in three decades, is founded on beautiful engraved plates by the brothers Franz and Ferdinand Bauer.
Bid to $80,000 (£60,605) – this time almost double the previous best – was yet another Jacquin work with that same double auction pedigree, Fragmenta botanica… of 1800-09, which runs to 130 hand-coloured and two plain engraved plates. In those earlier sales the selling prices were £15,000 and $45,000 (then £27,450).
Sold at $110,000 (£83,335) last month was Charles L’Heritier de Brutelle’s Stirpes novae… of 1784-91, the first botanical work to feature engraved illustrations after Redouté. It was a very rare example of a deluxe issue in which the broadsheet plates were coloured in Redouté’s studio and under his supervision.
The complete work should have run to 10 parts, but the French Revolution, during which L’Heritier lost his fortune, home and celebrated gardens, brought an early end to its publication run.
The rare Allen copy, containing 103 plates in all, 99 of them colour printed and hand finished, was last seen at auction in 2001, when as part of a Massachusetts Horticultural Society sale held in New York by Christie’s, it sold at $26,000 (£16,270).
Yet again, it is to the former De Belder/Hoffmann set that we have to look for records – £98,000 in 1987 and $210,000 (then £128,100) a decade later.
Other famous Redouté works in the Allen sale included the ex- Hoffmann copy of Les Roses of 1817-24. An example of the issue with plates in two states – printed in colours and finished by hand, and in black on ochre paper – it here made an under-estimate $160,000 (£121,210). In 1997 the price had been $170,000 (then £103,700).
Sold at $90,000 (£68,180) was a tall and uncut, seven-volume set of the 1800-19 edition of H-L Duhamel de Monceau’s Traité des arbres et arbustes… cultive en France… While it shares that title with a 1755 monograph and is sometimes styled a second or new edition, it was essentially independent of that earlier work, both in text and illustration.
The later version contains 1498, mostly stipple-engraved plates after Redouté and Bessa that are printed in colours and hand finished. Two years ago Sotheby’s sold another set at £90,000.
A fine example of a famous English work, Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora… was bound in contemporary diced russia gilt from the original parts of 1798-1807 and comprised first or early issues of most of the 29 colour-printed and hand-finished aquatint, mezzotint, stipple-engraved and etched botanical plates. It sold for $70,000 (£53,030).
James Bateman’s Orchidaceae of Mexico & Guatemala of 1837-43 was the largest and heaviest orchid book ever printed.
One of just 125 copies, the Allen example showed some light spotting to a dozen of the 40 coloured litho plates that Gauci produced from drawings made for the most part by Mrs Augusta Withers and Miss SA Drake.
It sold below estimate at $60,000 (£45,455), but this is a work that has made much more. In 2002 the ex-Massachusetts Horticultural Society copy reached $170,000 (then £106,380) at Christie’s New York.