Sold at £25,000 in the Lyon & Turnbull (25/20% buyer’s premium) auction of June 17 was a diplomatic letter signed “your assuryd ffreend Thomas Crumwell” and addressed by the lawyer, statesman and England’s first minister to Doctor Wotton, the “Kinges ambassador in the parties of Germany”.
It concerned the proposed, and as it turned out, brief and seemingly unconsummated marriage of Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves in 1540.
Bid to £9000 was an earlier manuscript relating to dining expenses at Henry’s court in the year 1522. It was signed by a number of the king’s close advisers, among them Thomas Wolsey, whose enormous power and influence at Henry VIII’s court ended only with his failure to secure an annulment of the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Autograph letters also included one of 1732 in the hand of Jonathan Swift that sold for £5000, along with a good number in a key section of the sale focused on Robert Burns.
Bid to £9000 was a letter that Burns sent in December 1790 to Captain Francis Grose, a good friend and a recorder of ruins and archaeological remains who, after his death in the following year, was immortalised in Burns’ poem ‘On the late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations through Scotland’. The letter also makes reference to his tale of Tam o’Shanter.
A letter of 1786, addressed by Burns to another good friend, James Smith of Mauchline, and dealing with his own turbulent courtship of Jean Armour, realised £10,000.
Sold at £5500 was a fragment of a larger leaf bearing a nine-line working draft of verses beginning “No more, ye warblers of the wood, no more”. This was a sonnet written on the death in 1794 of yet another of his friends, Robert Riddel.
In an undated three-page letter that sold for £6000, Burns asks a favour of David Staig, who from 1783 was Provost of Dumfries. As he explains, it is not for himself, but for a strolling player of his acquaintance, a Mr Guion.
“Now Sir, is there any periphrasis of language, any circumlocution of phrase, in which I could convey a request, without at the same time seeming to convey it, that your amiable Lady & lovely Daughters, would grace my friend Guion’s boxes?”
In return, Burns writes, “I hereby promise & engage, that when you are made a commissioner of the Customs, I will write a congratulatory Ode on the subject; that every one of your charming girls as she is married, shall have an Epithalanium, & that your Lady shall command my Muse on any theme she pleases.”
Early printed works included, at £6500, a 1610, Rotterdam second edition of Jan van den Brouck’s Instructie der Zee-Vaert…, a rare and profusely woodcut illustrated work on navigation and practical guide to the use of maritime instruments.
Dated 1730 on the title-page but of later date, it seems, ‘Les Dames Fessues, ou Lettres de Cunégonde a Emélie’, was a French manuscript of 166pp purporting to describe the first named lady’s sexual exploits. In a late 18th or early 19th century binding and incorporating three engraved plates, it sold at £1600.
In February Lyon & Turnbull took £3500 for one of 15 large paper copies of JM Synge’s The Aran Islands of 1907 that was signed only by the illustrator, Jack B Yeats. A second copy in the June sale that was signed by both men, as is usually the case, made £4400 – a sum only bettered at auction by a couple of additionally inscribed or association copies.
Signed copies of expedition leader, Sir John Hunt’s 1953 The Ascent of Everest make a number of appearances in auction records, but none has previously scaled such bidding heights as the £3400 recorded here.
Sir Edmund Hilary and the Sherpa climber, Tenzing Norgay, who together made that final ascent, along with six other expedition members signed this copy. It was lotted with a copy of Alfred Gregory’s The Picture of Everest, printed on vellum and published in 1954. Some copies of that work have made as much as $1200, but they too were additionally signed examples.
The children’s books in the Edinburgh sale were headed at a near-record £100,000 for a fine signed and inscribed 1997 first of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (News Digest, ATG No 2448).