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A spread from the rare copy of Morrison’s 'Vocabulary of the Canton Dialect' sold by Bellmans at £4200.

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Only last year a lot offering just two parts of his great Dictionary of the Chinese Language was sold at £6000* by Dominic Winter, but in a June 14 sale held in West Sussex by Bellmans (22% buyer’s premium) a work by Morrison that appears to have made no previous mark on auction records was bid to £4200.

The estimate for Morrison’s Vocabulary of the Canton Dialect, printed in Macao on the East India Company’s press in 1828, had been set at £100-150 for what was a browned copy in a broken binding that presented only two of the three parts, but the book’s rarity and significance was noted.

It was catalogued as a first edition of the first western attempt to compile a glossary for a Chinese dialect, at a time when the opium trade was at its height, and included a quote from the work’s introduction.

“This vocabulary was undertaken in the hope that the language could be communicated to Europeans without the Chinese Character…”

* Complete sets of the Morrison Dictionary…, printed over the years 1815-23, are very rare, and the South Cerney example comprised only the first and third parts – albeit the latter is much the largest, itself running to three volumes. Printing was also interrupted when all the italic types were stolen before they could be unloaded from the ship that had brought them from England.