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A leaf from the Irish language and Latin manuscript that brought a far higher than expected bid of £32,000 in the Forum sale of items from Rugby School Library.

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The first of two major sales held in mid-November by Forum (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) was one that had caused something of a stir and protest in certain quarters.

The November 18 auction comprised books and manuscripts being sold off from the Rugby School library.

The Board of Governors’ view was that the works being offered deserved to be preserved, stored and enjoyed in specialist conditions. They emphasised the fact that the school is committed, as a registered charity, to use its resources to benefit current and future students.

The sale went ahead and raised over £600,000.

The most expensive entry, sold at £48,000 to an online bidder, was the pick of the Shakespeare lots: a handsomely bound but defective copy of the 1632, second folio issue of Shakespeare’s plays that lacked a dozen leaves.

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A 1567 first of John Maplet’s A Greene Forest, or a Natural History of Stones & Metals… as well as Plants…[and] Brute Beasts, Foules, Fishes, Creeping Wormes & Serpents – £8000 at Forum.

No language barrier to high price

However, the surprise result of the day was provided by something quite different.

Dated to c.1780 and beginning and ending with the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer, this was a slightly soiled and water stained Irish language and Latin manuscript of some 280pp that had been valued at £400-600 but ended up selling for £32,000. The manuscript was in a 19th century vellum binding.

Other early printed rarities included, at £8000, a 1567 first of John Maplet’s A Greene Forest, or a Natural History of Stones & Metals… as well as Plants…[and] Brute Beasts, Foules, Fishes, Creeping Wormes & Serpents. It was not in the best condition but undoubtedly rare at auction, with only one other copy seen in the last 50 years.

Special Gilpin

One other notable success, at £7000 – over 10 times the high estimate – was a very special copy of the 1782, first edition of William Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye, and… South Wales.

Featured as Pick of the Week in ATG No 2470, this was Gilpin’s own copy, incorporating two original oval watercolours, each with manuscript annotations, and showing additional colouring to the 15 etched plates by his nephew, William Sawrey Gilpin, that were trimmed and mounted on blank grey leaves.

Added by the antiquarian Matthew Holbeche Bloxam, one of the two ownership inscriptions that Gilpin’s copy later acquired reads: “This was purchased by me at a sale at Rugby and I gave for it the enormous sum of one penny.”