The highest price at Bonhams was a bid of £19,000 for a group of nine volumes, all finely bound in morocco, many by notable women binders, including Sarah Prideaux, Edith J Gedye, and Maude Nathan.

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The library of Robin de Beaumont (1926-2023), former president of the Private Libraries Association and benefactor to the British Museum, was offered at Bonhams (28/27/21/14.5% buyer’s premium).

De Beaumont was a leading authority on Victorian illustrated books and decorative bindings, and his grandson wrote in the introduction to the sale that a “visitor described his Chelsea library as ‘the closest one could get to looking through the window of Hatchard’s in the 1860s’”.

The 2000 or so volumes offered in 189 lots in an online sale which closed on January 31 told the story of book production and the marketing of books from the Victorian through to the Edwardian era, featuring hand-painted books, decorated cloth, vellum and leather-bound volumes together with a selection of miniature books, overall in exceptional condition.

Notable names

The top price was £19,000 (estimate £1000-1500) for a group of nine volumes, all finely bound in morocco, many by notable women binders, including a copy of RL Stevenson’s Underwoods (1887) bound by Sarah Prideaux; Ira Sankey’s Sacred and Songs and Solos (c. 1900) bound by Edith J Gedye, a member of the Guild of Women Binders; and Fiona Macleod’s (ie William Sharp) The House of Usna (1903) bound by Maude Nathan, a pupil of Prideaux.


This Jessie M King-designed vellucent vellum binding by Chivers of Bath for Rossetti’s Ballads was described as “the most beautiful and certainly the most ornate of the bindings” designed by her. It sold at £16,000 at Bonhams.

The second-highest result was for a binding designed by Jessie M King for a copy of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Ballads (1899). This volume was bound in vellum with a design described as three “Rossetti” women on the upper cover and with an abstracted butterfly ornament in ink and gilt repeated on the covers and spine.

Estimated at £2000-3000, this volume had a notable provenance having been owned by the bibliographer Philip Gaskell and had also been displayed at a National Library of Scotland exhibition in 1976. The binding had been carefully preserved in a felt-lined case, and the condition was immaculate.

Bidders fought over this volume which sold for eight times the low estimate at £16,000 hammer.

Another of King’s bindings on offer was a vellucent vellum binding by Chivers of Bath with a pictorial design on the upper cover and decorations on the lower cover and spine which included inlaid mother of pearl.

This binding had been featured in Sarah Prideaux’s Modern Book-Bindings (1906), and was later described by Colin White in his book The Enchanted World of Jessie M King (1976) as “the most beautiful and certainly the most ornate of the bindings [designed by King]”. This volume, estimated at £4000-6000, sold above the top estimate at £7000.


Owen Jones has been attributed as the designer of the binding of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies (1846) which made £4000 at Bonhams.

A binding described by the late great typographic artist Ruari McLean as “one of the finest covers of the early Victorian period”, and which he attributed to Owen Jones, was a publisher’s binding of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies (1846).

De Beaumont’s proof copy of this book was certainly a remarkably bright example with a gilt stamped design on cream boards that is often found rather dulled. The catalogue referred to Gordon Ray’s view of the production of the book being a “landmark in the history of style”, with the illustrator Daniel Maclise’s treatment of illustration and text as a unit. This copy sold for 10 times its low estimate at £4000 hammer.

Flower power

An exquisite volume of 19 botanical watercolours, each accompanied by a calligraphic note in pen and ink was titled Hardy Flowers which may be found growing wild or in the gardens in this country between Christmas and Lady Day and was written and painted by B Holt “at Chelsea and Langley” in 1934.

The 26-page morocco-bound manuscript was offered with another manuscript titled The Floral Album, which had been produced a century earlier.

The second volume contained 22 full-page watercolour illustrations of flowers interleaved with poems relating to the flowers. There was intense competition for these works estimated at £400-600 and they sold together for a hammer price of £10,000.

Wedding joy


Manuscript celebrating the marriage ceremony of Adrien Moreau and Thérèse Loyer, £14,000 at Bonhams.

An illuminated manuscript produced in France at the end of the 19th century to celebrate the marriage of Adrien Moreau and Thérèse Loyer contained 56 floral watercolours.

The illustrations were described as being in the style of Marie Lemaire (1845-1928), a French artist who specialised in genre works and flowers. Lemaire exhibited her work in 1893 at the Palace of Fine Arts and the Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The quality of the manuscript bound in gilt-tooled cream morocco with a repeated monogram and flower motif resulted in a hammer price of £14,000, far in excess of its £400-600 estimate.

Fine illustrations


This copy of William Morris’ Art and Beauty of the Earth, printed at the Chiswick Press in 1906, and bound by Katharine Adams, was finely illuminated by Allan F Vigers, a designer, like Morris, of textiles, furniture and wallpaper. It sold for £10,000 at Bonhams

Another finely illustrated book that attracted the attention of multiple bidders was a copy of William Morris’ book Art and Beauty of the Earth, printed at the Chiswick Press in 1906.

De Beaumont’s copy was bound in green morocco by Katharine Adams and had been finely illuminated by Allan F Vigers, a designer, like Morris of textiles, furniture and wallpaper. The illustrations comprised leafy and floral designs, birds and flowers in predominantly white, red, blue and green colours, with borders framing the text, and other vignettes and decorations.

This book estimated at £1500-2000 sold for £10,000.

A book linking Morris, Ruskin and Sydney Cockerell was a second edition of John Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing in Three Letters to Beginners (1857). This work by Ruskin contained an original pen and ink drawing by Morris and was later owned by Sydney Cockerell who made marginal annotations on many of the pages.

In 1886 Cockerell had met William Morris through the work of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the following year Cockerell visited Ruskin at Brantwood and a friendship quickly developed between them. The association of these figures with this book resulted in a top bid of £13,000 hammer, far exceeding the auction house’s estimate of £600-800.

Sex sells

Not all the books in the library were beautifully bound or illustrated, and some provided a different perspective on Victorian life.

One example was a late 19th century ‘guide’ to Parisian sex-workers, titled The Pretty Women of Paris, containing accounts of some 240 women describing their ‘names and addresses, qualities and faults, being a complete directory or guide to pleasure for visitors to the gay city’.

This book was privately printed in 1883 with a false imprint of ‘the press of the Prefecture de Police’.

The catalogue noted that the “author or authors were drawn to aspects of lesbianism, cross-dressing, inter-racial and other behaviours deemed erotic/exotic”. In 1996 Wordsworth Editions reprinted the book from this copy and included a preface by de Beaumont.

Only two other copies are recorded sold at auction in the past 50 years. Estimated at £2000-3000, this copy sold for a record price of £7000.

The auction carried a pre-sale estimate of £118,000-172,000 and every lot, bar one, sold for a hammer total of £421,850.