Books are just part of the 'fine' sale on Tuesday 13th September!

02/09/2011     Chiswick Curates

Sale of Printed Books and Manuscripts, Tuesday 13th September 2011, at 12noon

Dear Bibliophile

I’ve always been rather fond of The Golden Cockerel Press. It is not as rarefied or austere as The Doves or Ashendene Presses, or as ‘crafty’ and floridly ornate as The Kelmscott, and yet it embodies, for me, a peculiarly English sensibility, a gently ‘pastoral’ vision of the world. Although it didn’t restrict itself to publishing English writers (God may have been an Englishman but we can’t really claim the Gospels as part of the English canon), its illustrators were, almost without exception, English: John Buckland Wright, Robert Gibbings, Eric Gill, Blair Hughes-Stanton and Eric Ravilious, to name but a few; artists who – while their Continental and American cousins were chucking paint about in deliriums of expressionism – were part of that abiding English tradition of figurative, linear and largely figural art which was so ideally suited for representation in wood-engraving. 

Our sale of Printed Books and Manuscripts opens with a selection of Golden Cockerel Press books from the collection of Anthony Gregory. Titles include Enid Clay’s Sonnets and Verses, limited to 450 copies, illustrated by Eric Gill (who was Enid Clay’s brother) and inscribed by the author. It is estimated at £100-150. We also have a lovely copy of Swinburne’s Laus Veneris, a work ideally suited to illustration by that master delineator of the pert female form, John Buckland Wright: this is one of just 100 copies specially bound in morocco, with an additional engraving, and it is estimated at £200-400.

Anthony Gregory collected books for most of his life, and not just Golden Cockerels. Another interest of his was Horace Walpole and the whole Strawberry Hill phenomenon (there’s no other word for it). That remarkable house in Twickenham – the birthplace of the Gothic revival – has recently re-opened as a museum (‘one of England’s most elegant and eccentric houses’, according to its own website).

Walpole’s interests extended far beyond architecture into politics (he was a Whig member of Parliament) and writing. In 1764, he wrote and published (anonymously) that strange Gothic fantasy The Castle of Otranto. Even twenty years after reading it as a student, I still remember its strangeness. Sadly, we don’t have a first edition of it for you (although we do have an early Spanish edition!) but we do have, by way of compensation, a copy of the first book which Walpole printed at his own press at Strawberry Hill, in its earliest issue: Thomas Gray’s Odes (1757). Bound with a fourth edition of the same author’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard, it is estimated at £400-600. (Recently, someone phoned me to say they had a copy of “Gray’s Allergy”.)

Reflecting the sheer range of Mr Gregory’s collection, the section also includes a first edition of Samuel Beckett’s groundbreaking work of monochrome alienation Waiting for Godot (£70-100), Erasmus Darwin’s The Temple of Nature (the author was Charles Darwin’s grandfather – and, interestingly, the work does touch on vaguely evolutionary themes, £200-300), an exceptionally fine first of Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (turned out, like 007, in an impeccable jacket, £100-150) and the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary with its mighty 4-volume supplement (magnifying glass required, £50-80).

Elsewhere, the sale contains a wonderfully eclectic mixture of things: books from the, sometimes surprising, library of the renowned critic, poet and connoisseur Edward Lucie-Smith, finely bound sets of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson (possibly the same person), Jane Austen, Lord Byron and others, a postcard from Everest, an Ethiopic manuscript, a wonderful archive of original artwork by book illustrator Janina Ede, a delightful embroidered book featuring some owls, an 18th-century work on sore throats, Ranjitsinhji’s Jubilee Book of Cricket, John Claude White’s Sikhim & Bhutan. Twenty One Years on the North West Frontier, and a limited edition bound in vellum of Peter Pan, illustrated, and signed, by Arthur Rackham.

Finally … an auctioneer’s catalogue will often contain headings relating to provenance which can sound quaint to our modern, egalitarian ears: The Property of a Lady, The Property of a Gentleman, The Property of a Nobleman, etc. But such a title, more than appealing to snobbery or eliciting intrigue, can also indicate something of importance: that a collection is fresh to the market and has been in private ownership, sometimes for generations. Quite often, the reasons such collections come up for sale are unfortunate, ranging from the need for a new roof, divorce, bankruptcy to … well, death. Happily, none of the above applies to our particular Gentleman: he has simply decided on a change of lifestyle, and is relocating somewhere hot with yachts, and probably all sorts of unpleasant insects, which would not be conducive to the care and upkeep of antiquarian books.

The collection is particularly strong in 17th and 18th-century books, and, although in some cases their condition may not be perfect, it is, in all cases, perfectly original, and that is of inestimable importance in books of this period: collectors far prefer the original faults to modern repairs. These are books which have, over the generations, and quite properly, been read and held and annotated (or just casually doodled in), and no one, thankfully, has thought to spoil them by rebinding them or washing the life out of the leaves. Typical in this regard would be our copy of Andrew Marvell’s The Rehearsal Transpros’d; Or, Animadversions Upon a Late Book, Intituled, A Preface Shewing What Grounds there are of Fears and Jealousies of Popery. (They knew how to do titles in those days; I’m not sure an agent would let this one go now. “Can’t you think of something a bit more snappy?” she’d probably say.)

Marvell is best known, of course, as a Metaphysical poet, contemporary of Donne, Herbert and Milton, and several of his poems, endlessly anthologised, have entered into the wider consciousness. What schoolboy hasn’t sniggered at To His Coy Mistress, the longest chat-up line in literature? The Rehearsal Transpros’d, however; reveals a different but no less fascinating figure: a prose work of biting satire, a plea for liberty of conscience, and, according to Pforzheimer, “… one of the few controversial books which … can still be read with pleasure.” Ours is the very scarce first edition of 1672, in contemporary calf, and it is estimated at £1,500-2,000.

The collection contains many similar treasures: a folio bible printed in Cambridge in 1625, bound in 2 volumes and interleaved with copious contemporary annotation (£300-500); Charles Cotton’s very bawdy Scarronides: Or Virgile Travestie of 1664 (£200-300); a truly lovely copy of Philip Miller’s The Gardener’s Dictionary of 1731 handsomely bound in contemporary panelled calf (£400-600), James Sowerby’s English Botany in 37 volumes published between 1790 and 1814 and containing over 2,500 hand-coloured engravings (£1,000-1,500); and several books relating to York, and to law.

But I have deliberately kept my favourite till last. Like school teachers or doting grandparents, we’re not meant to have favourites, but I’m afraid I do, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve become something of a laughing stock at Chiswick because of my fawning enthusiasm for this little volume, and it’s got so bad now that I won’t even let anyone else hold it – even Lee, our long-suffering photographer.

The book in question is an atlas. Usually when we think of an atlas we think of something big and floppy which you have to squash to get into a glove compartment. This atlas, however, would fit quite easily into my shirt pocket. It is John Seller’s Atlas minimus or A Book of Geography Shewing all the Empires, Monarchies, Kingdomes, Regions, Dominions, Principalities and Countries in the whole World and it was published in London in 1678. I mentioned earlier the generally rather worn condition of some of the books in this collection: this atlas is a magnificent exception. It is, without doubt, one of the freshest copies of a 17th-century book I have ever seen, and it is bound in a lovely, but unassuming, contemporary calf. Containing 53 engraved maps including an exquisite double hemisphere map of the world with elaborately decorated margins and the first English map to depict California as an island, it is estimated at £7,000-10,000.

Do come along and take a look.

Nicholas Worskett

Book and Manuscript Specialist