This coming week Bloomsbury New York will be offering a rich miscellany of literary books and manuscripts, Americana, works of art on paper, curiosities and erotica, all covering a vast continent of diverse subjects.
The best place to begin exploring is an important set (Lot 314), the three-volume first edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, clearly beaten out by the success of the Paula Peyraud sale. This lot owes its impressively high estimate ($50,000-70,000), over twice that of the Peyraud volumes, to its provenance. The name “CHARLETON” stamped on the upper cover suggests that the set may have been in the collection of Susan Carnegie, a prominent early feminist writer and philanthropist, who lived at Charleton House, Montrose, until her death in 1821. In a similar vein, there is an Elizabeth Barrett Browning manuscript (Lot 321), and various first editions of Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Hallam, Shelley (Lots 201-220), as well a manuscript (Lot. 198) of a eulogy by Lady Byron to Lord Melbourne, the husband of Lady Caroline Lamb, with whom her husband had famously engaged in an affair.
The group of important erotica (discreetly introduced by the disclaimer “The following lots may be objectionable to some readers.”) contains Henry Spencer Ashbee’s notorious bibliography of erotica Index Librorum Prohibitorum… Centuria Librorum Absconditorum. Catena Librorum Tacendorum: being notes bio- biblio- econo-graphical and critical, on curious and uncommon books. The work is noted for the amplitude of its learned and eccentric annotations. Thus is Pedantry the handmaiden of Pornography, as she has been since the days of old Tiberius and before. This industrious enthusiast bequeathed his collection of erotica to the British Library in 1900, insisting that they be accessible with the rest of the collection. The trustees reluctantly accepted the donation in order to get his important Cervantes collection. Even then, they found a pretext to destroy some of the erotic volumes. There is also an elegant anatomical diagram by Eric Gill of a couple engaged in sexual intercourse (Lot 249), some volumes from the Milford Haven Collection (Lot 254), an almost complete collection of the Olympia Press “Traveler’s Companion Series” and associated imprints. As stated in the catalogue, “Scandal, banned novels, and censorship battles aside, the Olympia Press and the associated imprints is one of the most important and influential publishing ventures of the 20th century and launched the careers of many literary greats and their novels; Vladimir Nabokov and Lolita, Samuel Beckett and Watt, William Burroughs and Naked Lunch, and James Patrick Dunleavy with The Ginger Man.” There are several erotic prints by Félicien Rops and Thomas Rowlandson (Lots 265 and 266), and collections of nineteenth century photographs (Lots 274 and 275), one of them with interesting annotations by an early owner.
This scandalous vein is continued by a collection of literary hoaxes and forgeries (Lots 279-308) , including a page of a manuscript of Poe’s “The Black Cat,” forged by Joseph Cosey (Lot 283), and a group of William Henry Ireland’s Shakespeare forgeries (Lots 286-289), including a first edition of the egregious “Vortigern.” First editions of Macpherson’s “Fingal” and “Ossian” (Lots 291-292) are also present among this group of classic forgeries.
You will also find first editions of all sorts, including novels of Thomas Hardy, J. D. Salinger, and William Burroughs, T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, as well as Polidori’s The Vampire and Rymer’s Varney the Vampire.
The most important lot of all, however, is a group of typescripts, manuscript fragments and notes by John Steinbeck for a musical version of his Cannery Row called “Sweet Thursday.” He abandoned this particular project and worked the material into a sequel, published as a novel. (However a musical version was eventually mounted, Roger and Hammerstein’s excellent and sadly underestimated Pipe Dream.) These papers offer a minute view of the author’s working methods, and we can only hope that they will go to an academic library where they will be accessible to students.
However there are much older objects in the sale, going back as far as Sumerian account tablets dated to c. 2150-2000 BC, Third Dynasty of UR (UR III). Perhaps more exciting in subject matter than these receipts for barley is a Bactrian curse tablet fro the 6th century AD, in which the commissioner’s enemy is depicted with a nail through the eye (Lot 4). A fine thirteen century missal (Lot 5) reflects more familiar religious sentiments. You will also find a Carta Executoria, a Spanish patent of gentility, a plain one without drawings or illuminations, but very attractive (Lot 7). There are very appealing Renaissance volumes, including a first illustrated edition of of La Gerusalemme Liberata (Lot 47), as well as some splendid bindings. There is also a fascinating mid-15th century astrological manuscript from northern Italy, as well as a gorgeous Dutch printed book with hand-colored illustrations of European marbles (Lot 63). the following lot is a manuscript with colored illustrations of Roman mosaics. Enthusiasts of American-Soviet space exploration and Richard Nixon’s foreign policies will be excited by a collection of documents relating to the Apollo-Soyuz space project, while lovers of flying insects will be thrilled by Pierre Borellus’ De vero telescopii inventore, cum brevi omnium conspiciliorum historia (Lot 66), “the first account of the invention of the telescope and the compound microscope. It also contains Christian Huygens’ preliminary announcement of his discovery of Saturn’s rings and its moon, Titan.” There is also a set of Diderot’s Encyclopédie (Lot 69) and a letter by Alfred Einstein (Lot 70) of touching human interest in which he helps a stranger, a Jew, to gain the approval of his fiancées father, a Roman Catholic. (It worked out.)
For the important group of papers relating to the history of the American colonies, I shall refer you to Bloomsbury’s learned catalogue:
The following collection of Colonial Charters and Documents (lots 71-80), the Property of a Gentleman, represent not only a keen interest in early Colonial history, but a diligent search among the papers of descendants of two key players of the era, Sir George Carteret and Edmund Andros.
With Carteret one might expect to find in such papers a copy of the later 1674 grant to Carteret of New Jersey (which he named) by the Duke of York, which restored the first grant of 1664. As perhaps the most influential Privy Council member, he would likely have a record of the important and largely secret 25th April 1664 commission by Charles II to send Colonel Richard Nicholls, Sir Robert Carr, Colonel George Cartwright, and Samuel Mavericke (with frigates and troops) to New England to “settle matters criminal and civil” (or more plainly, to bring New England back under the King’s influence).
Yet the present copy of the commission includes an important addendum: the decree in September by the Council in Boston to reassert the law of their original Charter, effectively restating the independence of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from Royal jurisdiction. This additional account that would likely only be present on a copy sent back to England via the King’s Commissioners. Also present is copy of one of the earliest patent issued in the early colonies, the 1629 patent for Saco, Maine. (Again, these were exactly the sorts of grants and deeds copied and taken by the commissioners during their tour of New England).
Colonial scholars have long-regretted the actions of Cartwright, who en route to England and faced with capture at sea by the Dutch threw overboard “all the original papers of the transactions of the Royal Commissioners, together with the maps of the several colonies” that he had been entrusted with. When he did finally return, one of Cartwright’s first visits was to Sir George Carteret.
Did some of the papers Cartwright collected while Royal Commissioner survive that encounter or were the present lots with Carteret descent from the replacements sent over afterwards? In any case their Carteret family history provides a rare chance to own copies with distinguished provenance.
The survival of the Andros-provenanced material is perhaps somewhat less romantic, but certainly the Rhode Island document is of interest, recreating as it does the original purchase deed of Aquidneck Island (the future Portsmouth and Newport) by William Coddington, including signatures of the Indian chiefs, most probably for grant and charter issues relating to the short-lived Dominion of New England of which Andros was governor.
Of special note is the document signed by the Virginia rebel Nathaniel Bacon, previously unknown and believed to be one of only two surviving examples.