English translation of an Italian Humanist treatise by Isabella Sforza, Of the True Tranquility of the Soul, £32,000 at Forum.

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A hitherto unknown translation of an Italian Humanist treatise surfaced at a recent sale in London. Written by an unidentified hand in c.1580, it is the English version of a philosophical work by Isabella Sforza (1503-61).

Of the True Tranquility of the Soul was offered in the Forum (30% buyer’s premium) Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper auction held on May 30. The original work, by a notable Italian Renaissance woman, was penned at a time when females struggled to be heard in the academic and spiritual sphere.

Written in the first person, the work at Forum contained chapters on how to lead a spiritually devotional and peaceful life, with instructional passages on the ‘dignity of men’, ‘the principal passions’, ‘refraining from anger’, ‘to tame gluttony and wantonness’, ‘lay aside pride’, ‘tranquility’ and so on.

Very few records exist regarding the life of Sforza, the last, and illegitimate, daughter of the Pesaro branch of the illustrious ruling family of Milan, and wife of Cipriano del Nero, baron of Perciglione. Like many works by female humanists, ‘Della vera tranquillità’ remains largely unknown.

A few female humanists achieved fame (and notoriety) in their own time, but their accomplishments, while admired by many of their male contemporaries, were not generally taken very seriously.

Although many humanists pushed for better education for women and sometimes even wrote ‘defenses’ of women, they seldom gave up notions of innate male superiority.

With a UK consignor and estimated at £1500-2000, it achieved 16 times the top estimate, hammering down at £32,000 to an online UK buyer.


Manuscript giving an insight into the history of food and medicinal curative potions used in Georgian England, compiled by ‘Mrs Hunter’ between 1730-67, sold for £8500 at Forum.

Another manuscript by a woman that did well in this south London auction gave an insight into the history of food and medicinal curative potions used in Georgian England. It was compiled by ‘Mrs Hunter’ between 1730-67. As detailed in a historical directory of Berkshire, ‘Beech Hill House, the seat of Mrs Hunter, is a large and plain mansion of brick’.

Hunter had collated a ‘Curious Old Receipt (recipe) book’ written in several hands, and included recipes for ‘Pickle sparrows’ and ‘Lady Walpole’s receipt for chicken sauce’, ‘Lady Bolingbroks cheese given me by Mrs Pierse 1740’, and medicinal cures ‘for ye Gout or rumatism given me by Lady Harriot Cholmondly’ and ‘the Tar Pills excellent for a Consumptive Cough Mrs Pitt Binfield’.

Given the current interest in food (ie where it is sourced, how it is prepared and so on), culinary and medicinal literary works are definitely on the rise price-wise, which was reflected in the value achieved. Consigned at a modest £600-800 estimate from a deceased UK estate, the price realised was a healthy £8500 to a UK institution.

Calcutta recollection


Archive of personal papers belonging to James S Stopford Esq, Sheriff of Fort William in Calcutta, £42,000 at Forum.

Consigned by a private UK seller, one lot which generated fevered bidding was the archive of personal papers belonging to James S Stopford Esq, Sheriff of Fort William in Calcutta, dated 1844. Also included were his earlier journals and extensive correspondence, numbering around 100 pieces, mostly from Calcutta, but also from other Asian locations and Malta.

With an estimate of £400-600, this took 70 times the high estimate, reaching £42,000 hammer and, interestingly, sold to a private Asian collector.

From research, these appeared to be the handwritten musings of James Sydney Stopford (1808-85) of Barton Seagrave, Northamptonshire, who came from a distinguished family. His father was Rev Richard Bruce Stopford (1774-1844), Chaplain to Queen Victoria and Canon of Windsor Castle, and his mother Eleanor Powys, who was daughter of Thomas Powys, 1st Baron Lilford.

His grandfather was the illustrious James Stopford, 2nd Earl of Courtown (aka Viscount Stopford 1731-1810) - an Anglo-Irish peer and Tory politician. James S Stopford became a successful merchant, benefiting from the opportunities afforded to him trading in colonial India. In 1844 he was appointed Sheriff of Calcutta, an apolitical titular position of authority bestowed for one year on a prominent citizen.

The Sheriff was the executive arm of the judiciary and responsible for the provision of jurors, the safe custody of prisoners and the seizure of goods. The archive listed offered a comprehensive insight into the life and mind of an early 19th century colonial official.

Wilde and Beardsley


Contract letters signed by Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley in 1893, which made £28,000 at Forum.

Fast forward to the late 19th century, and we arrive at the contract letters signed by Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley in 1893 which were previewed in ATG No 2643. Consigned by the estate of the late Max Reinhardt (publisher) for £15,000-20,000, they sold for £28,000 to a private US collector.


Elizabethan first edition of the New Testament, the first printed in Welsh, dated 1567, sold at £12,000 at Forum.

A rare Elizabethan first edition of the New Testament, the first printed in Welsh and dated 1567, was one of only 50 known copies to be recorded. Previously sold in December 2016 at Sotheby’s New York, from the Bible Collection of Dr Charles Caldwell Ryrie, it originally sold for $8750 (about £7220).

Forum’s estimate of £4000-6000, on behalf of the UK seller, managed to double its high estimate on the day, selling to a private European collector for £12,000.

Burmese days


Rare c.1870s Burmese School Parabaik (folding manuscript), £48,000 at Forum.

The afternoon session of the auction concentrated on south and east Asia. It was here that the highest price of the auction was realised, for a c.1870s Burmese School Parabaik (folding manuscript) painted in opaque pigments and heightened in white and gold.

Burmese artists were officially appointed to record important events at the court and scenes from royal life. They colourfully portrayed court life in nine vignettes, many of them featuring traditionally dressed figures with elephants.

The manuscript offered was created by the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Mandalay, Burma, and once housed in the Royal library of Mandalay Palace. The palace was constructed in c.1857 and was the last royal residence of the Burmese monarchy.

The complex ceased to be a royal residence and seat of government on November 28, 1885, after the capture of the palace by the British, and the contents - such as this manuscript - revealed the secrets of court life to the outside world.

Similar examples to the present manuscript are held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Schøyen Collection, London and Oslo. Consigned by a UK vendor, it was estimated at £8000-12,000 and after some spirited bidding realised £48,000 from a UK buyer online. This was a strong result as a similar version was sold at Gorringe’s in December 2015 for £1900.

Wide range

The auction achieved some excellent results, and overall it was a strong and interesting sale.

It featured a wealth of printed matter, covering an eclectic mix of social history and commentary in both the public and private sphere, crossing continents and centuries; from witchcraft and demonology to religious texts, with everything in between, the written word illuminating the quirks and foibles of humanity.

The final hammer total for the whole sale was £1,109,000 (excluding buyer’s premium) and the lots sold came in at a solid 83%.