One of just 250 copies, this was the first published work of Alfred Russell Wallace, the naturalist whose theories on evolution through natural selection were being formed at much the same time as those of Darwin.
Unfortunately, the ship on which Wallace was returning to England in 1852 had caught fire, destroying the specimens he had collected over several years in the Amazon regions and only a few notes and sketches survived.
Illustrated with a maps and 47 lithographed plates by W Fitch, this copy of a book based on his lost work showed some water staining to both the illustrations and the binding and was estimated at just £1000-1500 – but it was one that he had inscribed to George Silk, his closest friend.
The previous best was £9000, paid at Sotheby’s in 2015 for the copy in the Franklin Brook-Hitching library.
The ship on which Wallace was returning to England from South America caught fire
Though not one of the more highly estimated lots in the Forum sale, a UK first of Wallace Smith’s Bessie Cotter was nevertheless a rare and unusual inclusion.
By virtue of a catalogue description that began not with the author’s name, but the words ‘Banned Book’, it was the first item to be offered in the final and small modern firsts section of the sale and doubled the high estimate to sell at £800.
A novel about the life of a prostitute working the streets of Chicago, it was deemed indecent by the British censor when published in 1935, a ruling that led to its withdrawal and a fine for the publishers, Heinemann. As a consequence it is quite a rarity.
The jacket was designed by Philip Youngman Carter, who as the husband of the novelist Margery Allingham was involved in the development of many of her novels and designed wrappers for both her books and those of many other well-known exponents of detective fiction, Georges Simenon among them.
He also wrote his own short crime stories and following his wife’s death in 1966 completed her last novel and produced two sequels.
The author of Bessie Cotter, Wallace Smith, was also a very talented illustrator, as well as a cartoonist and screenwriter who at a very young age had become Washington correspondent for the Chicago American and was once described as “one of the most colorful reporters who ever worked for the Hearst papers”.
More highlights from this auction will appear in a future issue.