Many of the more successful lots that featured in an exceptional book sale conducted by Lawrences (25% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne on March 16 reference a man described as one of the more famous Victorians you’ve probably never heard of.
An extensive and previously unrecorded archive of items relating to the great showman, author, and entrepreneur, Albert Smith (1816-60), was consigned for auction directly from the family of his sister, Laura Eady.
Despite being the subject of a 2015 biography by Alan McNee called The Cockney who sold the Alps, Smith is certainly not a familiar figure today.
During his lifetime, however, he was a household name in England, and someone who thrilled audiences with accounts of his ascent of Mont Blanc in a show at London’s ‘Egyptian Hall’ that was managed by his brother and ran to some 2000 performances over a period of six years.
An inveterate entertainer, Smith was also a doctor, writer and much more besides, and it has been said of him that his many talents were outstripped only by his boundless self-belief and huge personality.
Even Queen Victoria referred to him in her journal as “inimitable”.
Much admired in literary and artistic circles, Smith was well known to the ‘Punch Crowd’, and friends with Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and other regulars at the Garrick Club, where he was part of the younger ‘Bohemia’ crowd.
To the captain
Still in the original blue wrappers and inscribed on the title-page “Captain Phillipps with the author’s regards 1852” was a copy of Smith’s Mont Blanc, a work printed for private circulation in that same year. A copy owned by Smith’s sister, it sold at £4400 – some 10 times the high estimate.
That Mont Blanc lot was part of a 50-lot collection offered at Lawrences comprising original manuscripts, books, letters, and items produced to accompany his shows.
A folder of his autograph lecture notes on his Alpine ascent was sold at £4000, and bid to £6500 was a large collection of loose manuscripts that included one of 34pp titled ‘Mont Blanc to China’ and related to an entertainment given at the Piccadilly ‘Egyptian Hall’ that opened in December 1858.
Numerous items relating to his travels and adventures were part of this collection.
Among them were copies of a short-lived comic journal, The Man in the Moon, which ran to 30 editions and was intended to be a rival for Punch, along with other short works of comic fiction. This lot sold within estimate at £160.
Autograph material by Rudyard Kipling included a lot comprising 26 letters written to a Captain Edward Bayly (or Bayley) at various addresses, among them the Royal Naval College, HMS Pelorus and HMS Aurora, which sold at £6000.
Captain Bayly’s own archive made up the following lot and included journals from some of the ships mentioned, as well as ephemeral items relating to his time in China. It sold at £6500.
Items of note also included one of just 50 signed copies of Twenty Poems by Hugh MacDiarmid… of 1977. Privately published by William Johnstone, whose lithographs illustrate each fascicle of the work, and containing one signed original, it sold at £1300.
Illustrated by Alfred Crowquill was an 1843 edition of Beauty and the Beast that a 15-year-old Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) inscribed for his sister Mary as a birthday present in 1847.
It was not in great condition but, another of those lots that had once belonged to Eady. It sold at £1400.
A copy of the 1866, first American edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, bound from the sheets of the very rare, suppressed English first edition of the previous year, was sold at £2000.
A number of the sale’s other more expensive lots are described below.