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British manuscripts and fine bindings played a major part in a Christie’s New York sale (26/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) auction that ended on October 6 and offered works from the library of Edward R Leahy.


The ex-Bradley Martin copy of Thomas Gray’s An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard, uncut and unsewn in the original wrappers. A work begun in 1742 and on completion initially circulated only in manuscript form, it was in 1751 rushed into print within a few days when the threat of a pirated print issue was identified. Sold at $17,000 in 1990, it was this time bid to $85,000 (£74,955) at Christie’s New York.

Christie’s billed the sale as comprising the “finest collection of modern illuminated manuscripts and jewelled and other magnificent bindings since the auction of Phoebe Boyle nearly a century ago”. Fourteen lots from Boyle’s collection were offered in this auction and the names of a great many other well-known collectors featured in the provenance notes.


Sold at $135,000 (£119,050) at Christie’s New York was a remarkable, eight-page letter of 1943 in which JRR Tolkien, in a belated response to a letter from two young female fans, explains the development of runes and the languages used in The Hobbit. In a letter that includes alphabets and phrases compiled from them, he writes: “It’s some while since I heard from you, but I have been rather busy, and have had to put off answering your letter, until I could deal with your questions about Runes – not properly, because that would take a book or two, but at least decently.” The letter was last seen at Sotheby’s in 1995.

Amassed over several decades by Leahy, an American lawyer and businessman, the sale also featured “important incunabula, English literature from Spenser to Tolkien with a particularly deep well of Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson and his circle, works relating to Captain Bligh and the Mutiny on the Bounty”, and a fine collection of horror works, said Christie’s.


Running to just nine pages, and including the map seen in the spread reproduced here, was a manuscript of c.1782 in the hand of William Bligh. Inscribed to Lord Howe and concerning navigation in the West Indies, it was described as probably the most significant Bligh manuscript in private hands. It sold for $55,000 (£48,500) at Christie’s New York on what was its third auction outing.

Illustrated here are a number of the exceptional lots featured in the Leahy sale, one that raised a premium-inclusive overall total of $3.94m (£3.47m).


A presentation copy in original burgundy cloth of the 1890, first issue in book form of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, inscribed and signed on the title-page to “Mrs Kingsley Melbourne with A Conan Doyle’s kindest remembrances”, made $160,000 (£141,095) at Christie’s New York.

Further highlights included:

• An 1818 first in a much later binding of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein… that was given to either Rudolph Ackermann, who in 1827 had published, anonymously, her story ‘Lacy De Vere’ in his literary annual Forget Me Not, or perhaps to his then teenage son, Adolphus, whose signature it bears. It sold at $180,000 (£158,730).

• Sold at $105,000 (£92,590) was a copy of the 1746, first English translation of Machiavelli’s The Prince in a simple but fine contemporary binding.

• A 1632, second folio, first issue of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies – which also saw the first appearance in print of a work by John Milton, a 16 verse epitaph for Shakespeare – took $220,000 (£194,005).

• Arthur Conan Doyle’s own, 24pp manuscript account of his seven-month voyage in 1880 as a 20-year-old, third-year medical student serving as a ship’s surgeon on an Arctic whaler was sold at $17,000 (£14,990).

• Last offered at auction in 1991, at Sotheby’s New York and as part of the Richard Manney library, a rare 1722 first edition of The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, the superb ex-Litchfield- Borowitz copy in a restored contemporary binding, was bid to $100,000 (£88,185). It is one of only three first edition copies seen at auction in the last 30 years.