Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2017 Issue

The Lingering Allure of the Manuscript: The Jay T. Snider Collection of Illustrated & Decorated Manuscripts at Christie's

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Highlights manuscripts from Christie's sale of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana

Editor's Note: Christie's sale on December 5th of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana contains a beautiful selection of manuscripts from the Jay T. Snider Collection. This is Books & Manuscripts specialist at Christie's Rhiannon Knol's take on the significance of manuscripts in the field.

 

After over 500 years of the Gutenberg Galaxy, what explains the lingering allure of the manuscript? This question finds a ready answer in the diverse and lucid collection of Jay T. Snider, which spans centuries and continents yet broadcasts—in both its whole and its every part—what the artist Ben Shahn described as “an immediate sense of the hand that made the letters… the joy of workmanship that no time or weathering can erase.” While the category ‘illuminated manuscript’ is usually associated with medieval Europe, none here predate the invention of printing in the West. Gutenberg’s printing press may have industrialized book production, but it could never totally displace the role of the written word and the painted image.

 

While print means copies, a manuscript signifies an original, not mechanically produced, but handmade. Manuscripts bring us into the realm of the private diary, the personal sketchbook, and the draft—the places where human imagination, artistry, and knowledge germinate. Take, for example, a notebook in the Snider collection kept by several generations of nuns at the convent of Saint Godelieve (lot 145). Inside, numerous neat hands in French and Flemish record the collective knowledge of the convent on dyeing, paper making, embroidery, and other textile crafts. Inside its covers (themselves a manuscript salvaged from a Medieval antiphonal) scraps of inspiration have been lovingly preserved: illuminated borders from books of hours, a prayer card, cut-out paintings of fruit. On the other side of the Atlantic in the same century, Bethlemite monks in Mexico were crafting a large illuminated missal (lot 159). Although the Spanish had been printing in the New World for nearly two centuries, the manuscript tradition was alive and well—producing Baroque masterpieces which combined European and Native traditions of art and book production to honor the glory of God.

 

The heightened possibilities offered by words interplaying with images in handwritten and painted works also make these ideal vehicles for communicating scientific knowledge. A nineteenth-century illustrated manuscript recension of an ancient Indian veterinary text reveals this accretion of knowledge over time, with recipes added in several hands (lot 163). At the same time, a handsome manuscript document of the butterflies of Estonia underscores the importance of the scientific eye working in concert with the hand to capture the splendor of nature (lot 162). In 19th-century China, artists painted watercolors for the export market, producing astonishing renderings of native flora for discerning foreign scholars who did not trust engravings done by artists who had never seen their subjects (lot 155), as well as luminous gem-like miniatures to meet the tastes of collectors from London to Moscow (lot 156).

 

Across Europe and America, artists and travelers recorded their views of the world on a human scale. The American folk artist Lewis Miller captured the bustling cities of Germany in his “Reise Journal” (lot 150) while British engineer and draftsman Henry Drayson did the same for the dramatic landscapes of the American Northeast (lot 152). Princess Maria Anna of Prussia and Elisa D’Angleville both kept albums of their work as artists, tracing not only the development of their skills and the settings of their daily lives, but the landscapes of their interior life as well (lots 148 and 149).

 

Edo Japan’s manuscript tradition thrived alongside print, as scholars recorded ancient knowledge in elaborately folded books, calligraphers vaunted their art, and scribes copied secret or censored material for private circulation (lots 164-168). Manuscripts are also, of course, the province of secret knowledge. The Russian Old Believers, an often-persecuted breakaway sect from the Orthodox church, preserved centuries of ancient tradition in their manuscripts (lots 157 and 158). Cut off from the structures of the church, their sect spurred a growth in literacy as members took interpretive control into their own hands—their visionary theological manuscripts revealing a non-systematic knowledge infused with natural rationalism and creative imagination. 

 

Handwriting is one of the tracks of the body, a leaving behind of the traces of human identity. Communities are recorded, sometimes created, in the pages of books. During the Medieval period, the operation of the memory itself was figured as a form of writing, with the writing of the scribe on vellum (made from animal skin) likened to experiences and emotions inscribing themselves onto the living flesh of the mind. Still today this metaphor has longevity, not lost to old technologies but resurrected for the language of computers and the digital, which write memory in bits and bytes onto the hard drive. The manuscript as an object offers a rare intimacy with the human mind of the long dead past.

 

Thus, when Marco Verricci presented his album of fantastical cities to Doge Marino Grimani in 1595, he was not giving a gift of paper and ink but of the imagination itself, pressed into the service of the glory of Venice (lot 169). In the age of print—and the era of the email—the manuscript is not less relevant at all, but only more precious and imbued with human meaning.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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