A coloured plate from the elaborately cased set of the monumental Description de l’Egypte sold at Sotheby’s for £380,000.

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A stand-out lot in a November 12 sale in London was a splendid first edition example of the monumental Description de l’Egypte of 1809-28.

Offered by Sotheby’s (25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium), it comprised 21 text volumes in their original wrappers and 14 elephant and double elephant folio plate volumes in contemporary red morocco-backed boards.

They were all housed in an impressive mahogany cabinet with striking gilt-bronze, Eygptian-inspired mounts. This was inspired by the work of the Parisian cabinetmaker, Charles Morel, who, based on a design by Edme-Francois Jomard, produced the cabinets in the 19th century.

Description de l’Egypte, a justly famous work, resulted from the researches made by scholars following up the opportunites offered by Napoleon’s campaigns in the Ottoman-held territories of Egypt and Syria.

It just topped the high estimate to sell at £380,000.

One such set, however, has made more – a great deal more. In 2011, as part of a Christie’s Paris sale of the fourth part of the Michel Whittock collections, a set presented by Charles X to Jean-Joseph Corvoisier, his justice minister, utterly demolished its estimate to sell for €920,000 (£801,115) to a US dealer.

Corvoisier had his set sumptuously bound by Jean-Joseph Tessier in polished, mahogany brown calf, stamped and decorated in gilt and blind with tools of Egyptian inspiration.

Magnificent work


A plate from the beautifully bound copy of the Wondertooneel der Nature sold for £24,000.

Sold for £24,000 in the recent London sale was a magnificent copy of the two-part, 1706-17 catalogue called Wondertooneel der Nature, one which detailed the contents of the wunderkammer assembled by Levin Vincent, a Dutch textiles manufacturer.

Elaborately bound in 18th century black morocco gilt, this was reckoned by Sotheby’s to be the most impressive of the very few copies ever seen at auction.

One of the seven engraved plates, shown above, shows some of many people who visited his private museum.

This was one of 54 lots that came from the library of the Earls of Haddington, as was a volume in which two works on explorations in the North Pacific published by Thomas Jefferys in the 1760s were bound together to sell at £25,000.

These were a 1761, edited and enlarged first English edition of GF Müller’s account of the discovery of the Bering Strait and the other a 1768 first of a work by TS Drage speculating on the …probability of a North West Passage.

Also part of that property was a 1640, first collected issue of Samuel de Champlain’s Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale that made £70,000.

Among atlases offered was a rare French text edition of Colom’s sea atlas, published in 1668 but previously known only from a single leaf bound into a Dutch text edition. Sent for sale by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, it made £75,000.

Single-owner source

A single-owner collection of almost 60 lots focusing on Greece and the Levant included comparatively well-known lots, such as Dupré’s Voyages à Athenes of 1825, sold at £38,000, and others less familiar.

One such was a complete 1821 first, and only, edition of Joseph Cartwright’s Views in the Ionian Islands, a large oblong folio collection of 12 hand-coloured aquatints, which made £55,000. Another was Gaspard Fossati’s Aya Sophia Constantinople of 1852 in a rare deluxe issue with all 25 coloured litho plates mounted on card. It made £20,000.


One of 73 original watercolours produced to illustrate one section of the Expedition scientifique de Morée, in this instance the work of P Oudart. Acquired from Maggs in the 1960s for £150, they sold at Sotheby’s for £60,000.

Sold at £60,000 – five times the high estimate – was a collection of 75 watercolour, ink and pencil drawings of natural history subjects produced by various artists for the natural history section of the reports on the Expedition scientifique de Morée commanded by the naturalist J-B Bory de Sant-Vincent.

A very rare and complete five-volume set of the official account, issued 1832-36, made £11,000.


1. One of Fosco Maraini’s photographic studies of Tibet in a lot sold at £75,000.

Sold for £75,000 was a unique and apparently unpublished photobook on Tibet. It contained 96 original silver prints produced by an Anglo-Italian photographer and anthropologist, Fosco Maraini, during a 1937 Italian expedition to the country led by Giuseppe Tucci.

This was the first trip to Tibet made by Maraini, an accomplished linguist, but proposed publication of this work may well have been interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Following a second visit to Tibet in 1948, Maraini published his photographs in a work published in English in 1952 as Secret Tibet.