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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Churchill’s Dangerous Letter, Napoléon’s Stolen Novel, and a Pony Express Bible

Size Isn’t Everything, Topographically Speaking

An illustration from Daniell’s Voyage shows ‘The Eligug-stack, near St. Gowans-head, Pembrokeshire.’ Courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions.

William Daniell & Richard Ayton, A Voyage Round Great Britain, £13,750 ($20,720) at Sotheby’s London on May 6 and £15,860 ($22,980) at Bloomsbury Auctions on May 27; The Isle of Wight Navigator, £5,612 ($8,130) also at Bloomsbury Auctions on May 27.

“Such a succession of beautiful plates is scarcely to be found anywhere … unsurpassed both in delicacy of drawing and tinting,” wrote one admirer of a work that has also been called “the most important colour plate book on British topography.” There is no doubt that this monumental collection of over 300 colored aquatints after Daniell is a major achievement, but it is also one that is cheaper now than it was 10, 20 or even 30 years ago—even without taking all those years of inflation and rising buyers’ premiums into account.

The spread from the Isle of Wight Circumnavigator depicts ‘The Needles and Freshwater Lighthouse’ and ‘Freshwater Bay.’ Courtesy of Bloosmbury Auctions.

These two sets did pretty much what was expected of them in today’s market, but this is the sort of price that sets could make at auction 30 or so years ago and 1985, one Daniell Voyage Round Great Britain made as much as £25,300—around $37,000 at today’s exchange rates. That one, admittedly, was a bit special in being armorially bound for the Marquess of Stafford, and another set which made £23,100 (nearly $34,000) in 1988 was Ayton’s own, but there is no escaping the fact that prices considerably higher than what one can hope for nowadays were once the norm.

Very different in size and conception on the attractions of the British coastline was something published by Edward Wallis around the same time, c.1820. The Isle of Wight Circumnavigator is one of the scarcer works relating to the island and comprises 19 colored aquatint views on conjoined sheets that are folded concertina-style. There was some soiling and browning to the plates, but this rare little item was still in the original floral-embossed cloth binding, with gilt title and vignette to the upper cover, which although rebacked, preserved the original spine.

Compared with Daniell’s ambitious survey of the entire coastline of the British Isles, this is a work of modest pretensions, but highly valued for all that.

A Barber-Surgeon Who Changed Surgical Techniques

The calf gilt binding of Les Oeuvres de M. Ambroise Paré (1585). Courtesy of Sotheby’s Paris.

Les Oeuvres de M. Ambroise Paré…, Euros 132,750 ($165,200) at Sotheby’s Paris on May 18.

A barber-surgeon with no Latin, Paré (1520-90) rose to become a successful military surgeon and premier chirurgien du roi under Charles XI and Henri II of France.

On the battlefield he found that gentle dressing of gunshot wounds was more effective than the traditional technique of cauterization. Though grounded like the rest of his profession in medieval ideas of a humoral basis to all health and illness, he continued to develop his empirically based surgical methods. This led to the practice of ligaturing blood vessels after amputation to control hemorrhaging, as well as improvements in obstetrical surgery. He even invented new surgical instruments for his work.

The only known example of Pare’s tract, Responce aux calumnies, bound into Les Oeuvres de M. Ambroise Paré. Courtesy of Sotheby’s Paris.

Paré’s innovations won him support from a noble clientele, and doubtless many other grateful patients along the way, but the medical establishment was extreme in its opposition to his work. The Paris Faculty of Medicine even attempted to suppress his books; what probably galled them most was the fact that his tracts were popular because of their use of the vernacular rather than Latin.

After Paré’s death in 1590, his writings continued to circulate freely throughout Europe, but in France, reactionary pressures prevailed. There his discoveries were quickly forgotten and not revived until the Faculty itself was abolished at the time of the French Revolution.

This 1585 edition was in a fine period binding of calf gilt, but what was most remarkable was that it contained the only known example of the original, broadsheet or public poster version of his Responce aux calomnies, a tract in which Paré responded point by point to the objections of his detractors.

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