July at Forum Auctions: Two sales in 10 days, two more on deck

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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Historically a quieter time of year in the book business, London-headquartered auction house Forum Auctions is bucking the trend by keeping the summer packed with sales: four in July, and two more in August. On offer this month is:

  1. An online sale of Cricket Books and Works on Paper, active now through July 5th.
  2. A traditional sale of Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper in London on July 10th.
  3. A Forum Auctions Italy online sale of Libri Antichi e Rari ending July 13th.
  4. An online sale of Books and Works on Paper ending July 20th.

Catalogs are currently live online for the first two sales (hyperlinked above) and I’ll highlight a few lots from each below.

Beginning with the online sale of Cricket Books and Works on Paper, this specialist sale dedicated to the game of cricket contains 83 lots headlined by three of John Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack, a publication the professional cricketer launched the year after he retired in 1863. Lots 80-82 are single years of Wisden’s Almanack—1896 (estimated £15,000 to £20,000), 1869 (estimated £10,000 to £15,000), and 1916 (estimated £5,000 to £6,000). These are evidently big deals in the cricketing world. An additional highlight of the sale is a complete run of Cricket Scores and Biographies of Celebrated Cricketers, vols. 1 through 16, and dating from 1862 to 2003. The set is estimated £750 to £1,000 as lot 34.

Online sales often are made online-only because of a smaller scope and/or lower overall estimates (they are after all cheaper than putting on a full-fledged live auction), but Forum’s second book sale of July, Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper, is deservedly a live sale. Topping the estimates for the 475-lot sale are four lots from varying combinations of the Brontë sisters. Lot 335, estimated £60,000 to £80,000 is a three-volume set of 1847 first editions of Emily and Anne Brontë’s first novels, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey respectively. A stated two hundred and fifty copies were printed of these first editions, and Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë’s only published novel as she died the following year.

Perhaps the most valuable single volume in the sale, lot 330, belongs to all three Brontë sisters, who in 1846 published their Poems, a collection of 61 poems, under their pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, respectively). The copy here is the first issue of the first edition of the first publication by any of the Brontës. The rarity of the book in this state is impressive: a thousand were printed by Aylott & Jones in 1846, but only two sold. Thirty-seven copies were given away to authors whom the sisters admired (and assumedly to friends and family as well), leaving 961 copies unsold. These remaining copies were purchased by the publishers Smith & Elder, who decided to reissue the work in 1848 under their name with a new title page and rebound in a green harp binding, meaning that only 39 copies of the first issue ever existed. The following lot, 331, is the Smith & Elder edition in its intermediate state—it has the green harp binding, but still bears the Aylott & Jones title page (Forum states these copies appear this way either due to binder neglect or because the Smith & Elder title page ran out)—which is also quite rare in itself. The original first issue of Poems is estimated £30,000 to £40,000, while the intermediate state in the 1848 binding is estimated £15,000 to £20,000. Adding to the value of the Aylott & Jones issue is an autograph letter signed by Charlotte Brontë addressed to the publishers discussing Poems.

Pre-dating the Brontë material by more than three centuries are two significant lots totally unrelated to one another. Claudius Galenus, also called Galen, was dubbed the “most famous physician of the Greco-Roman world whose writings have survived” by the Cambridge University Press. Lot 183 is Galen’s Opera [actual title in Greek] printed by the Aldine Press in 1525. Five folio volumes make the publication “one of the ‘biggest’ books printed” by the printers, and it is also one of the rarest of all Aldine editions with Forum stating that only two or three complete sets having been sold in the last 30 years. The set’s rarity is greatly increased by the fact that it had just a single first and last run. It is estimated £25,000 to £35,000.

The other 16th century highlight narrowly misses the cut for the incunabula descriptor. Printed in Basel in 1501 by Jacobus Wolff de Pforzheim, lot 167 is a rare illustrated edition of Aesop, which is also a first edition of Sebastian Brant’s additional 140 fables. The woodcut illustrations accompanying Brant’s works are described as “richer and more sophisticated than the rather naïve illustrations to the first part, which were based on Zainer’s cuts for the first illustrated edition” printed in Ulm around 1476. Estimated £15,000 to £20,000, Aesop’s Esopi appologi sive mythologi cum quibusdam carminum et fabularum additionibus Sebastiani Brant is a handsome folio and an early edition of one of the most famous storytellers ever.

Forum Auctions’ online sale of Cricket Books and Works on Paper is active now and ends Wednesday, July 5th, and their traditional sale of Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper is scheduled for Monday, July 10th at 10:30 am British Standard Time. Both of the preceding links lead to the respective online catalogs where registration for bidding can be done. Also, don’t forget about two more online sales later in the month, Libri Antichi e Rari ending July 13th and Books and Works on Paper ending July 20th.