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The woodcut title-page of the Fox Pointe Manor library copy of The Apologye of Syr Thomas More…, sold for £18,000 by Forum.

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Two recent sales showed that it’s not always a case of ‘save the best for last’ when it comes to lot numbering.

On July 10, when Forum Auctions (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) offered more 16th and 17th century books from Howard Knohl’s Fox Pointe Manor library in California (the first selection having been sold by Sotheby’s New York in October 2016), the second lot offered brought one of the day’s most successful outcomes.

Estimated at £3000-4000 was a 1533 first of The Apologye of Syr Thomas More Knyght, a defence of his own actions and those of the clergy in general that More published in response to a work of the previous year called A Treatise concerning the Division between the Spirituality and Temporality.

The latter, generally ascribed to Christopher St German, argues for the supremacy of the king and the drastic limitation of church powers.

No other copy has been seen since this one’s last outing in 1990, when at Sotheby’s New York it sold for $2500 (then £1525) as part of the great H Bradley Martin library.

Around a dozen leaves have corners or margins restored and there is some light water-staining, but in its later blind-stamped morocco binding by Zaehnsdorf it sold this time at £18,000.

'Friers' focus

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Printed by Jean Bell in 1655, Robert Greene’s Honorable History of Frier Bacon and Frier Bungay… took £8000.

In the following day’s wide-ranging general sale, Forum sold the third lot off the block, an incomplete Second Folio of Shakespeare’s plays* at £34,000, but not far behind was a 1655, small quarto edition of Robert Greene’s Honorable History of Frier Bacon and Frier Bungay. As it was lately plaid by the Prince Palatine his Servants.

Sold for £8000, this work, first issued posthumously in 1594 and again in 1630, is a comedy based principally on the life of the 13th century philosopher and polymath Roger Bacon.

Doctor Mirabilis, as he was sometimes called, was believed by many to be a magician and his famous brazen or mechanical head, which could ‘magically’ answer questions, is shown on the title-page illustration above.

The play proved the most popular of Greene’s works, but he is probably best known nowadays for his apparent attack on Shakespeare in Greenes Groats-Worth of Wit, a posthumously published work of 1592 in which he describes Shakespeare as an “upstart Crow”.

The covers of the later Rivière binding are slightly splayed, but all editions of …Frier Bacon are scarce, said Forum, who could trace only two other copies at auction – this very example, sold in 1948 for £36, and another that two years earlier had made £18.

Star turn

The star turn in the Bonhams New York (27.5/25/20/13.9%) June 13 sale of the Keck library, sold to benefit charitable institutions, was a presentation first of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species that made a record $400,000 (£316,353) – see ATG No 2398 – but Shakespeare provided another high spot.

Sold at $37,000 (£29,600) was a bound, 30pp extract from the 1623 First Folio presenting the complete text of The Tragedie of Coriolanus.

A 1687 edition of Titus Andronicus, or the Rape of Lavinia, an early play whose attribution to Shakespeare was once disputed (previewed in ATG No 2397), sold at £3200.

* In an online sale of December 3-17 held by Sotheby’s New York (25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) the former Courtland Field Bishop copy of the 1632 first issue of the Second Folio was sold for $240,000 (then £187,500).