RARE BOTANICAL WORKS SPARK PBA GALLERIES AUCTION

. October 3, 2007

In a rambling old farm house on the rocky coast of Maine, with a view of Penobscot Bay, was ensconced for many decades the remarkable library formed by J. Roy Barrette, author of A Countryman’s Journal and other works on life in rural Maine.

Scattered among the classic examples of American literature and leatherbound sets in the library was an amazing selection of fine botanical books from the 18th and 19th centuries, gathered over many years. His heirs had, years after Barrette’s death, made the decision to disperse the library, and the many rare and beautiful works came to form the nucleus of PBA Galleries’ initial sale of the 2007-2008 auction season, Fine & Rare Books, including the Botanical Library of J. Roy Barrette of Brooklin, Maine, September 13, 2007. Many other fine items, ranging from an important 15th century edition of Thomas Aquinas to the Manuscript Edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Works, graced the catalogue, but it was the breath-taking series of botanicals with hand-colored plates that garnered the most attention.

Chief among these was a 43-volume run of The Botanical Magazine by William Curtis and John Sims, 1786-1815, with some 1806 hand-colored copperplate engravings, selling for $28,750, near the top of the $20,000/30,000 pre-sale estimate. Close behind was E.P. Ventenat’s Description des plantes nouvelles et peu connues, 1800, a lovely large-paper copy with 100 hand-colored copper-engraved plates, most from drawings by P.J. Redouté, hammered down at $19,550. Plantarum Succulentarum Historia, 1827, also illustrated by Redouté with 182 plates printed in color and finished by hand, though a later edition, went at $14,950. Among several works by Robert Sweet was The Florist’s Guide and Cultivator’s Directory, 2 volumes, 1827-1832, with 200 hand-colored plates as issued, and extra-illustrated with 72 additional plates from Sweet’s Geraniceae, splitting the estimate at $12,650, and The British Flower Garden, Series 1 & 2 in 7 volumes, 1838, with 710 colored and two uncolored plates, topping the $10,000/15,000 estimate at $17,250. But probably the most surprising result for a botanical work in the auction was the price achieved by Charles Darwin for On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects, and On the Good Effects of Intercrossing, 1862. Though not containing any of the spectacular color plates of the earlier botanical works, the importance of the text, and the unusually nice condition, brought strong competition, as the $1,000/1,500 estimate was shattered by the final price of $6,900.

Other works in the auction ranged from early science, astronomy and alchemy to finely bound sets. Johannes Kepler’s rare summation of his three laws of planetary motion, Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae…, 1618-1622, banned by the Catholic Church when it came out because it promoted the heliocentric theory, was bid to $28,750, just under the $30,000/50,000 estimate. The Summa theologiae, secunda pars, pars seconda of St. Thomas Aquinas, printed in Strassburg in 1463, the rare first printing of any portion of the Summa Theologica, and the earliest obtainable book printed in France, though missing four text leaves, two index leaves and two blanks, brought $28,750 as well. A “Larger” Paper Copy of the third edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia, 1726 (larger than the regular copies, but smaller than the “largest” copies), issued in an edition of between 50 and 200 copies, beat the $20,000/30,000 estimate at $31,625. Henry David Thoreau’s Writings in 20 volumes, the Manuscript Edition with a manuscript leaf from “Walking,” finely bound in half green morocco, sold at $12,650. Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology, three volumes plus the atlas of 76 hand-colored engraved plates, the revised edition of 1828-29, fetched $18,400, over the $10,000/15,000 estimate. And the first edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1668, attractively bound in modern paneled calf replicated a binding of the period, bested the $6,000/9,000 estimate at $13,800.

The 176-lot auction of select material totaled over half a million dollars in sales, with nearly 90% of the lots selling, a vigorous start to the auction season for PBA Galleries.

Note: All prices include the 15% buyer’s premium, and are in U.S. dollars.

The full catalogue, and results of each lot, may be viewed at the PBA website, www.pbagalleries.com. All items are pictured in the online catalogue, but high-resolution images for each of the lots described in this article, suitable for publication, may be received via email. Contact shannon@pbagalleries.com .

For information about consigning material to PBA Galleries’ auction of Fine & Rare Books, November 29, 2007, or to future auctions at PBA, please contact Bruce MacMakin bruce@pbagalleries.com

About PBA Galleries

PBA Galleries is the only specialist auction house in the West devoted to rare books, manuscripts, and maps. Focused primarily on personal collections and exceptional books, recent offerings have included the sale of maps and atlases from the Ernst W. Gerber collection; the library of Ford Mitchell: Early Americana, Texas & the West; John Dunlap’s collection from the estate of William Randolph Hearst; and many more. PBA Galleries provides clients the benefits of its staff of appraisers, online and printed catalogues, and biweekly gallery auctions where clients can bid in person, email, and in real time from their computer. PBA Galleries Website

Category: Auction News

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