Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

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

Old Masters of the Poster World

Reproduction lithograph of Mucha’s Job cigarettes advertising poster, included in Les Maîtres d’Affiche. Courtesy of Heritage.
Reproduction lithograph of Steinlen’s Chocolats et Thés advertising poster, included in Les Maîtres d’Affiche. Courtesy of Heritage.

Les Maîtres d’Affiche, $50,787.50, at Heritage of Dallas on June 7.

Conceived by the enormously influential French poster artist Jules Cheret, this was a subscriptions series of colored litho reproductions of the finest advertising posters of the late nineteenth century. They were issued at a rate of four a month from 1896-1900, along with sixteen additional ‘special’ plates, but subscribers did have the option of having their loose plates brought together in Art Nouveau pictorial bindings created by Paul Berthon, and this was just such a complete and beautifully preserved set.

Beautiful green pictorial binding of the five-volume set, Les Maîtres d’Affiche. Courtesy of Heritage.

Les Maîtres de l’Affiche features work by 97 artists, among them such big names as Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, and Cheret himself, and many of the plates are nowadays highly valued as individual sheets. Unbroken sets are thus hard to find, but this one contained all 240 color plates of the main run, plus all sixteen specials. Though these are reductions of the originals, they are printed on high quality paper and in some cases the only extant examples of the original posters.

The plates in this set are generally excellent, although there is some toning around the edges and occasional foxing—mostly found outside the image area, but more prominent in the special plates. Seen here are the stunning pictorial bindings and examples of the work of Mucha (Job cigarettes) and Steinlen (Chocolats et Thés).

Napoléon’s Tom Jones

French edition of Tom Jones, stolen from Napoléon’s library in 1815. Courtesy of Christie’s South Kensington.

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones ou l’enfant trouvé…, £6,250 ($9,013) at Christie’s South Kensington on June 7.

A 1784 French abridgement of Fielding’s masterpiece, this copy brazenly declares itself to have been stolen. The morocco gilt binding itself is a contemporary French one, but to the upper cover of the first volume have later been added the words “Taken out of the Imperial Library at Malmaison when it was occupied by British Troops, AD 1815.”

Joséphine de Beauharnais had bought the Château de Malmaison for herself and her husband, Napoléon, in 1799 and although they divorced in 1809, he did take up residence once more after the Battle of Waterloo. It was in the immediate aftermath of that crushing defeat that a chap by the name of Grantham, an aide-de-camp to Lieutenant General Sir Lowry Cole, a divisional commander in Wellington’s army, visited Malmaison. At the time it was occupied by British troops, and in a note written on a front black of the first volume, Grantham confesses to coming away with a souvenir of Napoléon and Malmaison. “Indefensible as the act was, the temptation to bring away a proof of that fact, was too strong, and I took these books out of the Imperial Library.”

A Musical Update

Just a note on the success or otherwise of those items from the Sotheby’s London music sale of June 9 that I previewed in the May issue.

The newly discovered autograph manuscript of Schubert’s song, Blondel zu Marien, was bought by UK dealer Lisa Cox at £54,050 ($78,115) and the Beethoven letter about the legal rights of his nephew went to a collector for £33,650 ($48,630), but neither the first printed vocal score for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, nor the bust of Johan Strauss II found new homes.

Derek HayesIan McKay’s weekly column in Antiques Trade Gazette has been running for more than 30 years.