The highlight of Christie’s December Books & Manuscripts auction is the first 110 lots: the Collection of a Lady being sold to benefit Historic Deerfield. The collector acquired these books and manuscripts mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s and she recently donated them to Historic Deerfield with the express intention that they be sold to benefit that museum.
In addition to the collector’s deep generosity, there is much to admire in her taste and in her foresight. Although it is very broad—from incunables to Americana, from John Donne to Stephen Crane—there are common currents that evidence a distinct point of view. Her choice selection of incunabula and early modern books, for example, very much anticipated current keen interest in secular humanism, and illustrated and decorated copies in contemporary bindings. Provenance is also important, and among the early books it runs from the gamut of the centuries from Swiss humanist Peter Falck, to the Princess Piccolomini, William Morris and C.H. St.J. Hornby, and two great American collectors of the 20th century: Estelle Doheny and Estelle Getz.
Her important collection of John Donne is led by the extraordinary manuscript Sammelband (lot 30), one of the only contemporary sources of Donne’s poetry in private hands. The intimacy and specialness of this unique Sammelband is an excellent representative of the collection as a whole, with its emphasis on reception, readership, and the physicality of books. The Donne collection also includes his rare first published work and a lovely copy of the first edition Poems and Juvenilia.
Female provenance and authorship are leitmotifs that also span the centuries. Note the contemporary female ownership of her first edition in English of Erasmus’s Praise of Folie, for example, as well as the works of Isabella Sforza, Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the 18th through 20th centuries, the collection expands to include important works of natural history, travel and exploration, and American literature. These are as diverse as a biographical tell-all letter by Stephen Crane from 1896, Hooker’s color plate work Himalayan Plants, extra-illustrated sets, and works by Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. One of the more unusual “currents” is rivers themselves—works of river exploration and literature. There is not only Mark Twain, but also the spectacular copy of Alexander Mackenzie’s Voyages, bound in red morocco and presented to John Simcoe; and Henry Lewis’s color plate views on and along the Mississippi. This river theme perhaps culminates in another rare work: an incredible presentation copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, this copy inscribed for Hattie McDaniel. It is one among many wonderful treasures in the Collection of a Lady sold to benefit Historic Deerfield.
Other important collections in the auction are the correspondence of Jack Kerouac to his good friend Ed White, who would, among other things, strongly influence his writing style and a fine series of color-plate ornithology of mostly tropical birds, led by Gould’s Birds of New Guinea. The Kerouac letters are mostly unpublished and with the majority written before the publication of On the Road, the letters are a crucial companion piece to Kerouac's 1957 book, and in many ways the rough drafts he said he didn’t believe in writing.
If you are in New York, you’re invited to Christie’s for the exhibition at Rockefeller Center. It opens this Friday, December 2.
View the full sale online: here.
For additional questions contact: Andrew Darlington, email@example.com, 212-636-2665