Sotheby’s to Auction Collection of 18th Century Books in Paris

. October 27, 2011 . 0 Comments

Sotheby’s will offer for auction on November 9, a prestigious and refined collection of 18th century books that is remarkable in terms of content, the quality of its illustrations, and the elegant morocco bindings which constitute a veritable ‘leitmotif’ of the ensemble.

The Library was assembled in the 1950s and ’60s by a captain of industry, who sought out the finest works from leading French and Swiss book-dealers. He had an enlightened, erudite and enquiring mind, imbued with great finesse and, as well as being an accomplished bibliophile, was also a collector of furniture and objets d’art.


Buffon: Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux. Estimate: €80,000-120,000. Photo: Sotheby’s.

This superb Enlightenment Library contains the classical and modern works most in demand among 18th century book aficionados: from illustrated Greek classics to coloured scientific works and large-format best-sellers, they form an ensemble of great distinction, suitably clad in original bindings of the finest red or green morocco, with gilt-embossed decoration by such celebrated Paris and London ‘binder-gilders’ as Derome, Padeloup, Kalthoeber, Gaudreau or Bozerian….

The sale begins with a number of magnificent almanachs, spanning over a century of the Royal (later National/Imperial) Almanach from 1700 to 1815, with copies owned by leading servants of the State under three kings and Napoleon (est. €70,00-90,000). Then come two sumptuous Bibles printed during the Revolution (1789 & 1793), with estimates starting from €4,000, and works by the great authors indispensable to any enlightened library: Bossuet and Boileau (1718), La Fontaine (1755), Dante and Boccaccio (1757), Corneille (1774), Molière (1734/1773) and Racine (1760), Cervantes (1780), Homer (1781), Montesquieu, Ovid…

The most spectacular ensemble is doubtless the large 10 folio-volume edition of Buffon’s Natural History, with Nicolas Martinet’s original hand-coloured engravings and an illustrious provenance (est. €80,000-120,000) : the copy was once owned by Prince Albert of Saxony, Duke of Teschen – as were an 11 quarto-volume edition (1810/11) of the Opere of Machiavelli (est. €4,000-6,000); Juvenal’s Satires (1796) in two folio volumes (est. €6,000-8,000); and Virgil’s Aeneid in an eight quarto-volume Italian edition published in 1793 (est. €7,000-9,000).

The Library also includes a sumptuously bound 19 folio-volume edition of Rousseau’s Œuvres (1793, est. €20,000-30,000); and two of the most luxurious travel books about Italy published in the 1780s, and magnificently bound in red morocco: Saint-Non’s Voyage Pittoresque (est. €30,000-50,000) and Houël’s Voyage Pittoresque (est. €22,000-28,000).

There is also a masterpiece of Spanish publishing: El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes (est. €30,000-50,000), in a very fine edition bound in morocco for Lord Beckford by Christian Samuel Kalthoeber, who was active in England at the end of the 18th century before disappearing from view in 1819. Kalthoeber influenced a whole generation of French binders, especially Bozerian, and is now ackowledged as one of the most pioneering book-binders of his time.

Other 18th century classics include a superb red morocco edition of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables (1755-59) illustrated by Oudry (est. €20,000-30,000); and Voltaire’s imposing Œuvres Complètes, published by Beaumarchais (1784-89) and better known as the Voltaire de Kehl (est. €25,000-35,000).

Category: Antiques

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