Every month I cover a handful of sales for Rare Book Monthly, and “Fine Books and Manuscripts” might be the most commonly used sale title I’ve come across. This month, however, Bonhams has upped the naming ante with their sale of Extraordinary Books and Manuscripts. Their offering is indeed extraordinary. Thirty-three lots make up the March 9th sale in New York, and 40% carry high estimates of six digits. The auction is quite varied, too, with cartographic, religious, scientific, musical, and manuscript material all providing shining highlights. Here are some of the best of them.
Though it is preceded by one older work, the sale’s high estimate belongs to something that is nonetheless incunabula. Claudius Ptolemaeus’ third edition (1478) of Cosmographia, translated by Jacobus Angelus and edited by Domitius Calderinus, is one of the rarest editions bearing the title and is cited as the edition that “far outshone any other fifteenth century edition” by The World Encompassed. It is one of the earliest printed books to contain copper-engraved illustrations, and it carries extra weight being the edition used by Columbus prior to his voyage of discovery to the Americas. The volume is incredibly rare—one other copy has come to auction in the last hundred years. This copy includes 27 copper-engraved maps and 23 additional engraved maps bound in at the end from the 1541 Vienna edition. Ptolemy’s work does not come cheaply; as the sale’s second lot, it is estimated $600,000 to $800,000. Such is the price for a once in a century opportunity.
Two lots share the second highest estimates of the sale, and they are quite different from one another. The sale’s oldest item, a 1468 second edition of Saint Aurelius Augustinus’ De Civitate Dei, is the author’s magnum opus and one of Rome’s first printed books and delves into matters religious, historical, and philosophical. The other is a manuscript written over 200 years later by Sir Isaac Newton in which he details how to make the philosopher’s stone. Augustinus opens the sale as the first lot, while Newton appears as lot 6. Both are estimated $200,000 to $300,000.
Music is another category well represented in the sale. An autograph manuscript of Beethoven, being a sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, “Sunset” Op. 108 no. 2 is available as lot 14, listed for $80,000 to $120,000. Three autograph manuscripts from Wagner, lots 20 through 22, carry estimates varying from $40,000 to $60,000 up to $150,000 to $200,000. And if a more tangible piece of music is your desire, a violin belonging to Einstein is also included in the sale as lot 26 for an estimated $100,000 to $150,000.
Not every item carries an estimate of $50,000+. Lot 17 is a document signed by Lincoln as President ($4,000 to $6,000) and the original transmission print on ferrotyped paper of the iconic “The Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima” is estimated $12,000 to $18,000 as lot 28.
Bonhams’ sale of Extraordinary Books and Manuscripts takes place Friday, March 9th in New York at 10 am eastern standard time. Bidding is available through the expected avenues: in person, absentee, telephone, and online. Registration prior to the sale is required. The sale’s catalog is vewiable on Bonhams’ website here.