02/11/2011 Chiswick Curates
In 1959, Peter Forrest was a young man living in New York. One day, he was sitting in his local restaurant when a truck drew up outside, loaded with thousands of books. He asked the driver what he was going to do with them. The driver, rather to his surprise, said he was going to dump them in the East River. Peter had a better idea: he offered him a small fee to take the books up to his apartment which just happened to be around the corner. The driver duly complied, and so began Peter’s lifetime’s involvement with books and the book trade.
It would be fun to conjecture that some of those original books, which Peter saved from a watery grave, might be amongst those included in our sale. Whatever the case, none of them have seen the light of day for at least thirty years, when Peter was last active as a book dealer, first in Brooklyn, and then in Battersea, South London.
One of the highlights of the collection is an extraordinary album of 25 photographs by the French photographer Bruno Braquehais (1823-75). Braquehais made a name for himself as a photographer of female nudes whose highly-posed ‘academic’ settings – complete with pillars, classical busts and drapery – were meant to mitigate their more frankly voyeuristic appeal. It is telling that many of his photographs were produced as slides for stereoscopic viewing, and it doesn’t get much more voyeuristic than that.
However, the photographs in our album, entitled “Album Historique de Malheurs de Paris”, could hardly be more different. They were taken during that dark period in the city’s history which has come to be known as “The Paris Commune”. In the short time of its existence, between March and May of 1871, it is said that some 30,000 people lost their lives. The pictures show a city surprisingly ravaged by war: so severe is the devastation that they recall images of the London blitz. Some poignantly depict the doomed Communards posing nonchalantly amidst the ruins or firing cannon from stockades: one is captioned, with startling immediacy: “14 Mai, 1871, 5h. ½ du matin.” In another, buildings on a devastated boulevard have had posters hurriedly affixed, warning of the danger of collapse. As is often the case with early photographs, it is accidental details such as these – the happy result of the indiscriminate nature of photography – which brings home to us the reality of history in a way which a historical painting, for instance, or a written account, never could, and it is easy to see why these poignant sepia images are often cited as early examples of ‘photojournalism’. The album is estimated at £2,000-3,000.
Amongst the many books of American interest in the sale, including quite a number of rare provincial imprints, is a small group relating to what has come to be known as ‘The Wild West’, including 2 volumes of a substantial report, published in 1856, into establishing the best route for a railroad from the Mississippi to the Pacific. Its eventual construction not only opened up the west to development and helped fuel the Gold Rush, it also provided endless opportunities for despicable cads to tie maidens to the tracks, for cowboys to shoot Red Indians off their horses and for stowaways to have brawls on the roof just as a tunnel was approaching. The report is chiefly of interest, however, for its many attractive tinted lithographed views of the untamed American landscape and the lot, which includes 4 other related books, is estimated at £300-500.
Another book in the collection which touches on the theme of transportation – of a rather earlier kind – is Jacob Rowe’s All Sorts of Wheel-Carriage Improved. This was published in 1734 and is illustrated with 3 folding engraved plates of a highly technical nature. The work suggests methods of improving the efficiency of horses “in Waggons, Carts, Coaches, and all other Wheel vehicles, as likewise all Water-Mills, Wind-Mills and Horse-Mills”, reminding us of the ubiquity of horses before the arrival of the steam engine. It is estimated at £100-150.
The collection includes a number of 19th-century American Floras – including a copy of Elizabeth Wirt’s exceptionally rare Flora’s Dictionary, published in Baltimore in 1829 (estimate £500-800) – and is also strong in books on travel and exploration, in particular those relating to mountaineering. Notable are Hereford Brooke George’s The Oberland and its Glaciers of 1866, illustrated with 28 original albumen prints (£100-150), Nina Elizabeth Mazuchelli’s The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them, printed in 1876 (£100-150), and James David Forbes’s Norway and its Glaciers published in 1853 (£70-100). Sitting oddly amongst these dizzying accounts is Charles Coates’s rather more down to earth The History and Antiquities of Reading published, with its rare supplement, between 1802 and 1810 (£100-150). As someone who has had the misfortune to pass through Reading on the train on more occasions than I care to remember, I must say it has made me see the town in a new light.
A second selection from Peter Forrest’s fascinating collection will be offered at Chiswick Auctions early in 2012.
Elsewhere, the sale is the usual eclectic and eccentric mix: it includes two original drawings by renowned Jersey artist Edmund Blampied, being sold with a presentation copy of his oddly-titled work Bottled Trout and Polo (estimate £800-1,200), Philip Howard Colomb’s Slave-Catching in the Indian Ocean from 1873 (£200-300), an Ethiopic prayerbook on vellum with several full-page portraits (£400-600), C. Day Lewis’s copy of Christopher Isherwood’s Mr Norris Changes Trains, a first edition of 1935, sadly lacking its jacket but including 2 other books by the same author (£600-800), and a miniature set of the works of Shakespeare in a lovely revolving sycamore bookcase (£800-1,200).
Finally, it is always gratifying to handle books which have a local connection – I mean, local to Chiswick – and we are delighted to be able to offer in the sale a copy of a delightful portfolio entitled Bedford Park. Published in 1882, this contains 9 highly evocative chromolithographed views of houses and street scenes from this part of W4, now a conservation area. John Betjeman described Bedford Park as “the most significant suburb built in the last century, probably in the western world” and today it is widely considered as the first example of a ‘garden suburb’. The portfolio and its plates are in excellent condition and are estimated at £500-800.