Reflections on a Year of Selling Books at Chiswick

12/11/2010     Chiswick Curates

It hardly seems possible that a whole year has passed since Chiswick Auction’s first sale dedicated to Printed Books and Manuscripts. Since then, we have held four specialist sales, and sold nearly 1,000 lots ranging in price from £20 to £20,000. We have sold books in every category, ranging from an exquisite botanical book printed in 1616, to a novel by Philip Pullman published in 1995.

Every sale has had its highlights – and the occasional disappointment: that unpredictability is what makes auctions so much fun (or so we keep telling ourselves). There have been some extraordinary surprises along the way – usually good ones, I’m pleased to say. Two examples must suffice.

What about the little game that popped up in our March sale this year? Externally, it was quite an unremarkable looking thing, in a plain brown wallet. Although it wasn’t hugely early (it was printed in 1847), it did have a lot going for it: it was called The Pirate and the Traders of the West Indies, and it was a game, and no one – including me – had ever seen it before. Anything West Indies is good news; anything pirates is good news; and games are good news. This had it all. Although I estimated it with almost insulting modesty at £100-200, I had a hunch about it, and illustrated it in colour in the catalogue. It made ten times its estimate. (A telling anecdote makes the case for illustration – a dealer told me his ‘heart sank’ when he saw the lot emblazoned across the catalogue page, because now, he knew, no one could miss it, and he’d have a fight on his hands. In the end, with gritted teeth, he underbid it.)

The second example came up in the same sale just 2 lots later. This was, again, a rather unremarkable looking volume, in a contemporary calf binding that was ‘rubbed and soiled’ (there’s always something a little queasy-making about bibliographical jargon, but we continue to use it because it makes us look important). It was called, rather engagingly, Foot Prints. And it did exactly what it said on the tin (as you have to say these days, even if you’re not selling wood preservative). Inside there were pictures of … well, foot prints. The subtitle, however, provided a clue as to the book’s purpose: ‘An Aid to the Detection of Crime for the Police and Magistracy.’ It was also published in Calcutta in 1909, and the author’s preface mentioned Baden Powell and the Scouting movement (very strong collecting fields). No one had ever seen it before, or anything quite like it, and it sailed past its estimate of £70-100 to make £2,400.

Just two lots from a single page in a single catalogue give some idea of the variety and, sometimes, the sheer oddity of what we sell. Who knows what will happen next?

You can find out by exploring our next sale of Printed Books and Manuscripts on 11 January 2011 (or ‘1.1.11’ – we may even have the sale start at 11.11am to contribute to the date’s apocalyptic doomsday feel!). Better still, if you’d like to consign to the sale, we are still accepting entries, and will continue to do so until the first week of December. We will accept anything – as long as it’s rare, odd, funny, classic … or just downright beautiful.

Nicholas Worskett

Book Specialist    Chiswick Auctions

07746 713928