Voewood Rare Books has released their Catalogue Three. The British bookseller is offering a mix of material which we promise, even if not based on a particular theme, is very interesting. They note it starts with the beginning of mass printing with movable type and ends at the dawn of the computer age. It's all about communication. They even have the book which they say contains “the earliest published picture of a potato.” We won't tell you what it is. You will have to get the catalogue. For the unexpected, they are offering an Aston Martin. The literary connection, of course, is James Bond. It is a DB6, and Bond drove a DB5, but it's close. Maybe a new Aston Martin was out of James' price range. Voewood has not revealed a price for the Aston Martin, but, you know, if you have to ask, you can't afford it. Here are a few selections from this latest Voewood catalogue other than cars and potatoes.
We begin by going back to the beginning, the first complete book printed with movable type. Of course, that would be the Gutenberg Bible, but no one is selling complete Gutenbergs anymore. This is what is known as a “noble fragment,” a single leaf taken from that illustrious 1455 printing job. Most of the leaves that are available these days come from a copy that was broken apart by New York bookseller Gabriel Wells in 1921. He did not destroy a copy of the world's most iconic book. He had a copy that was already missing 50 leaves when he broke it up and sold them one-by-one, or sometimes in groups. These days, even a single leaf is outside of the means of most people and there were 644 of them in a complete bible. Item 1. Priced at £100,000 (British pounds or approximately $137,500 in U.S. dollars).
This item was the start of short-lived career for a very talented but equally tragic family. There was tragedy at an early age for the three Bronte sisters, their mother and two older sisters dying when they were young. They overcame the misfortune by becoming very close and writing stories of a make-believe world they invented. That would serve them well when they grew older. In 1846, they decided to publish a book of poetry. Since women writers were always at a disadvantage in terms of esteem at this time, they chose the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Those names were chosen for their gender neutrality – you could imagine they were men or women, whichever you preferred. In reality, they were Charlotte, Ann, and Emily Bronte. They must have had great confidence their book Poems by Currer, Ellis and Action Bell would be popular as they printed a thousand copies. They sold two or three and distributed 39. They gave some away, but most of the pages languished without any interest. The sisters turned to writing novels instead and this time the response was totally different. In 1847, Charlotte would publish the enormously successful Jane Eyre, and after that Ann and Emily would also experience great success, though at first they still chose to be anonymous. Making the most of their success, the publisher of Poems, Smith, Elder and Co., figured this time the book now had a market. They bought the books from the sisters and issued a new title page, still with the 1846 date. Item 21 is one of those second issue copies but an unusual one. It is one of a very few that still used the Aylott and Jones binding used on the first issue, but it is a second issue as it has the 1848 advertisements. The rest of their tragic story is well known. Ann and Emily, as well as their only brother, died before 1850, and even Charlotte, the last survivor, died in 1855 at age 38, the longest surviving Bronte sister. £9,500 (US $13,032).
William Blake was likely the greatest artist-engraver who ever lived. We know that now. Unfortunately, most people did not realize that during his lifetime. His success was modest, with financial difficulties often an issue. By the time he reached his sixties, he was again struggling. This time he got a break. His friend, the financially successful painter John Linnell, recognized Blake's extraordinary talent and his financial need. He commissioned Blake's last book, Illustrations of the Book of Job. Blake could have related to Job, enormous struggles, but, hopefully, redemption in the end. Blake set about engraving a set of his illustrations of Job, while Linnell provided an income of £1 per week to support the artist. This work, dated 1825 but not published until 1826, is the outcome of the commission. This copy is one of 65 sets on French paper out of a total run of 315. The image on the cover of this catalogue is of Job, attempting to sleep but filled with terrifying visions. Item 3. £57,500 (US $78,877).
Here is a look at rural life in the late nineteenth century. It is a selection of ten photographs author/photographer P. H. (Peter Henry) Emerson created in 1890 from his book Pictures of East Anglian Life. These are pictures Emerson elected from his earlier book of the same name. This copy has a pasted-in “Preface” from Emerson. It explains that Emerson selected ten of his best plates from the earlier work for a limited edition of 75, which he gave to museums, galleries and others. And a laid-in note adds that this copy was for a museum and was presented by the author. A further notes explains his philosophy of photography and describes his practice for creating artist's photographs. The photographs are of rural scenes, including farm life and other country activities. Item 13. £5,000 (US $6,848).
This comes from the other end of the five centuries covered by this catalogue. It is a collection of 12 documents pertaining to the early development of computers. Item 31 is a collection of books, typescript and manuscript notes from the late 1950s concerning the Farranti Pegasus computer. Some, including the notes, come from a course for programming the Pegasus. It didn't have a keyboard but no worry. Information could be entered through a tape with holes punched in to convey the data, like the tapes used in telex machines as late as the 1980s. The documents include a 55-page booklet explaining how to use the computer and a syllabus of subjects for the Ferranti training school. One of the instructors was the father of Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the internet. Technological innovation ran in the family. While Ferranti was on the cutting edge of computer technology in the 1950s, they fell behind and focused on other products by the 1960s. There are two known Ferranti computers still in existence, but at least one and likely both no longer work. £1,750 (US $2,053.)