20th November Books (and everything else...too)

09/11/2012     Chiswick Curates

Sale of Printed Books and Manuscripts

Chiswick Auctions, Tuesday 20 November at 11am
In a famous essay written in 1941 entitled “The Art of Donald McGill,” George Orwell described McGill as being, “not only the most prolific and by far the best of contemporary postcard artists, but also the most representative, the most perfect in the tradition”, although, avowedly, the main point of the essay was an enjoyable analysis, in sociological and ideological terms, of the artist’s “overpowering vulgarity.” Our sale on 20 November includes perhaps the most substantial archive relating to this artist ever to appear at auction, containing in excess of 3,000 postcards, the vast majority by McGill, and many printer’s proofs on the original sheets (sold in 2 lots at £700-1,000 each). The archive also includes a typical original watercolour postcard design by McGill which features a languid young woman, complete with cigarette and half-discarded billet-doux from her latest admirer, confessing to her friend, “I always find men trying – don’t you?”. The friend replies, “Yes, Dear, but I don’t let them!” Sold with 8 other original postcard designs in the same vein by other artists, the lot is estimated at £500-800.

More original, but very different, artwork is included in the sale in the form of a small (134 x 83mm) album of 37 original pen and ink wash drawings depicting Victorian street life: traders, beggars, musicians and children (who might or might not be “urchins”). Although the cover is inscribed by one Robert James Moser of Hampstead, the only signed drawing bears a quite different but illegible name, so Moser may simply have been the owner of the album. The drawings, with their enormous sensitivity and charm but unflinching realism, would not look out of place illustrating a Dickens novel, and they are estimated at £200-300.

Amongst the many printed books included in the sale, a highlight is John Keats’ Unpublished Poem to his Sister Fanny, printed entirely on vellum throughout for the Bibliophile Society of Boston in a limited edition of 489 copies in 1909. It is exquisitely bound in morocco and is estimated at £500-800.

Elsewhere, the sale positively seethes with variety and is, as usual, largely sourced from private collectors. In no particular order (the alphabetical listing of the catalogue often leads to some intriguing contrasts), there are early books on law (including a truly exceptional, untouched copy of Coke’s The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws from 1656 - £300-500) and coins (Victor Aurelius’s Historia Romana from 1733 in a beautiful armorial vellum binding – £200-300); a collection of Vanity Fair prints (many cricketers including W. G. Grace); a collection amassed by George Bernard Shaw’s chauffer of thirty years, including a bible and cards inscribed by Shaw (Shaw told him to throw the bible away) and a moving letter from Shaw’s wife describing his illness and growing infirmity (£400-600); a card signed by Laurel and Hardy (£80-120); old aviation programmes from 1910, including one for a show in which Charles Rolls became the first Briton to die in a plane crash (someone has rather perfunctorily written “dead” beside his name in the programme); an album from 1918 which includes photographs of airships; some exceptional Islamic manuscripts; some fine works by Dickens including a first in book form of Dombey and Son in the very scarce original cloth (£300-500) and Edwin Drood in original parts (£300-500); a fine first edition of Lolita (Paris, 1955, in the original wrappers - £1,500-2,000); a fascinating ship’s diary from 1860, which details the minutiae of life on board the ship “Philanthropist” during a voyage from Peru to London (£300-500); a book from the library of Southey, signed by him (£600-800); fine John Speed maps of Ireland and its counties (various estimates); and natural history in the form of James Forbes’s Oriental Memoirs (1813, vol. one only - £400-600), Foreign Field Sports (1814, finely bound - £700-1,000) and Paul Emile de Puydt’s Les Orchidees (Paris, 1880 - £400-600).