The catalogue description of what turned out to be the top lot in a Dominic Winter (20/24% buyer’s premium) sale of April 6-7 in South Cerney, Gloucestershire, ran to over eight pages.
This lengthy entry was suitable for a sammelband of important early scientific works of the late 16th century on which bidding reached £62,000, more than double the high estimate.
The texts of the individual works had been carefully cut down to fit into the contemporary and now very rubbed plain calf binding, which resulted in occasional shaving of running heads, signature marks, etc, along with some of the larger illustrations and tables.
The binder, said the cataloguer, had nevertheless been sensitive enough to trim round some of those occasional larger page extensions and fold the edges into the text.
Illustrated top is the folding plate from a particularly rare work, a 1590 first of Thomas Hood’s The Use of Two Mathematicall Instrumentes, the Crosse Stafffe… and the Iacobs Staffe…, works that are described in their full titles as useful for those dealing with astronomical matters, or in the latter case, surveyors.
Showing some defects and bearing an early owner’s annotations to around 25 pages, an even older work, a 1550 edition of William Langland’s The Vision of Pierce Plowman… was sold for £16,000.
In a 19th century binding it is a copy once owned by Frances Wolfreston (1607-77), one of the earlier recorded female book collectors and, more unusual still for that age, someone who was without aristocratic lineage.
A large portion of her library was sold at Sotheby’s in 1856 and over the past 30 years, said the saleroom, Paul Morgan, Arnold Hunt and Sarah Lindenbaum have identified over 200 works, mostly literary, containing her standard ownership inscription: “frances wolfreston, hor bouk”.
Find out more on a dedicated website – franceswolfrestonhorbouks.com
Daughter of ‘Mad Jack’
Sold at £7000 was an autograph commonplace book in contemporary morocco gilt binding that was kept by Augusta Leigh, a daughter of the first marriage of John ‘Mad Jack’ Byron, and the half-sister and alleged lover of the son of his second marriage, the poet Byron.
Begun in 1802 and kept for almost 20 years, it contains her autograph transcriptions of poems, extracts from novels, sermons and other works.
A few lots at the auction were bid to notably higher than expected sums, among them the first volume only of two that made up A Dictionary, Hindoostanee and English.
This work was originally compiled for his own private use by Captain Joseph Taylor, but was seen here as revised for publication by Dr W Hunter and published in Calcutta in 1808. Estimated at £150-200, it sold at £1200.
A much more dramatic improvement on expectations was provided by a December 1817 response by Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, to a letter from Sir Joseph Banks.
Acknowledging receipt of Banks’ report on the then inexplicable but very favourable conditions in the far north that could encourage further Arctic exploration, Melville’s letter was accompanied by a six-page manuscript copy of that report – the original of which had presumably been handed over to the Admiralty.
Melville also gives details of planned expeditions into the Arctic regions, aimed at proving the existence or non-existence of Baffin’s Bay and investigating the practicability of a navigable passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Estimated at £200-300, the lot sold at £9000.
The following lot, which made £3600 rather than the suggested £150-200, was a typescript copy of the diary of Henry Robertson Bowers, one of those who perished with Scott in the Antarctic.
Ths copy seems to have been made some 40-50 years ago, but it was not until 2012 that Bowers’ diary was officially published by the Scott Polar Research Institute.
Literary highlights of the sale included, at £12,000, a three-decker, 1813 second edition of Pride and Prejudice. It was in modern boards, but on the title page of Vol I, beneath the line that defines it as a work by the author of Sense and Sensibility, someone has written “By the late Miss Jane Austen”. Jane died in 1817.
Sold at a record £3200 was an 1822 first in original paper wrappers of Hellas. A Lyrical Drama, the last work by Shelley to be published in his lifetime. He drowned in the Bay of Spezia later that same year.
Bid to a high-estimate £15,000 was an archive spanning the years 1952-2000 and relating to the life and work of the composer, conductor and Master of the Queen’s Music, Peter Maxwell Davies, who died in 2016.