Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2012 Issue

A Six Figure Library Book Saved in the Nick of Time

Pomonabrit

An illustration from the Pomona Britannica.

This issue of AE Monthly was not meant to be the library deaccession issue, though it seems to have unintentionally turned out that way. Elsewhere in this issue are disturbing stories of libraries trashing old books in the night, without regard to their value, fearful that donors or their descendants will find out their donations are no longer wanted. In other cases, libraries try to recoup books disposed of years ago from those who saved them, simply because they belatedly found out they were worth real money. Here, now, is a good story, one that will help restore some of your faith in those entrusted to keep our written heritage safe. The librarians at Centralia College, a small community college in Washington State, may not have understood the value of one of their books, but when it came time to dispose of books it no longer made sense for them to keep, they first made sure there was a good home awaiting. The result was a stroke of good fortune that will now fund book loans for needy students. Sometimes, good deeds are rewarded, not punished.

This story begins over a century ago. In 1907, while attending Oxford University, Mary Chenoweth purchased a copy of Pomona Britannica, A Collection of The Most Esteemed Fruits, published in 1812, for £12 (British pounds). This is one of those early illustrated botanical books, an 18.5” x 23”, 28 pound set created by the cabinetmaker turned artist George Brookshaw. It is one of the masterpieces of British botanical art. Mrs. Chenoweth and her husband, Arthur, later moved to the Silver Creek area, near Centralia. In 1964, she donated a collection of her books to Centralia College. Mary Chenoweth died in 1975.

As a statement from the college noted, the collection “mostly collected dust for over 40 years.” They were wonderful books, but not of much practical use for students at Centralia. Instead, the valuable collection required space and care by library staff without providing much practical use in return. Despite their value, it no longer made sense for the college to keep these books.

Fortunately, the library staff did not try to dispose of these books in the night. Instead, they found a home for their collection at the University of Washington, which maintains a large rare book collection. The librarians boxed up the books for delivery to UW. However, this one set wouldn't fit in their boxes. It was too large. The Pomona stayed behind while the other books were delivered to the University of Washington.

Someone then suggested displaying the book at the college's science center, but when botany professor Dr. Lisa Carlson saw the book, she recognized it ought to be appraised. It was then that officials at the college realized they had something special on their hands. The book was sent off to Christie's, where it went up for auction on June 22. When the hammer came down, the book had sold for $110,500. The college's President, Dr. Jim Walton, released a statement saying, “This is simply amazing. A book that we were going to give away will now fund a program that will provide a great benefit to our students. All because it wouldn’t fit in the box.”

The program to be funded by the proceeds will enable students to borrow money to purchase textbooks. So this one book will enable students to obtain many necessary books in the future. The fund, most appropriately, will be known as the Mary Chenoweth Student Loan Fund.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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