There have been some interesting recent changes in the Sydney book auction scene. The main auctioneer in this field, Lawson’s, have been taken over by Deutscher-Menzies and have announced a reduction in their books/maps/prints auctions to two per year, aiming for the “prestige” end of the market. At least two firms have thus seen an opening for regular auctions in the “fine and collectable” books area. An ex-Lawson’s staffer has started business as Sydney Book Auctions, and the established fine art auctioneers Stanley & Co. have announced their interest in this area.
On 21st March Stanley & Co. held their first sale of collectable books, maps and prints. A varied catalogue (which I prepared) of 240 lots, about half of them books, attracted more than thirty bidders including several prominent antiquarian bookdealers.
Top price of the night was $1,400 for a set of Anson’s A Voyage Round the World (5th ed. London 1749), matching its catalogue estimate. Second highest price was $1,300 (nearly three times the catalogue estimate) for a 40-volume set (ex-library but in very good condition) of the Transcripts and Exhibits of the Nuremberg War Trials 1947-49. The third item to fetch more than $1,000 was a very good copy of Isaac James Providence Displayed: or the Remarkable Adventures of Alexander Selkirk … (Bristol 1800) which went for $1,200 after spirited bidding, rather a surprise considering the catalogue estimate of $100-$150. A member of Stanley’s staff told me later that they had been expecting the book to sell for about twice the estimate, based on recent advice from experts in London. A very rare copy of Admiranda Romanarum Antiquitatum ac Veteris Sculpturae Vestigia … (Rome 1693) with all 83 engraved plates intact, though somewhat foxed and waterstained, sold for $1,100, right on the catalogue estimate. Having survived pretty well for more than 300 years, one hopes it will not meet an untimely death at the hands of a dealer of old prints! That may well be the fate of an incomplete set of the Gentleman’s Magazine 1784-1813 ($650) and incomplete sets, in poor condition, of the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia ($200) and Cook’s Voyages ed. John Hogg ($300), all three well above the estimates of their worth in book form.
Other important works sold included a slightly foxed copy of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s Fairyland (London 1931) for a reasonable $800; a very good copy of the special deluxe edition of P. Neville Barnett’s Japanese Colour Prints (limited, signed, Sydney 1936) for only $550; and a good set of the 3-volume Picturesque Atlas of Australasia for $800 (remember when the Picturesque Atlas could be picked up almost for a song because it was so ubiquitous?). A quite good copy of Aristophanes’ Women in Parliament (signed, limited, Fanfrolico Press 1929) was referred at a rather cheap $275. Very surprisingly, the famous Norman Lindsay Number (Dec. 1930) of Art in Australia was passed in with no bids, as were three good numbers of the short-lived literary magazine Vision and a first edition with dustjacket of Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot (1961). A working copy of Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory which included typed lists purporting to reveal the true identities of the various characters also failed to attract interest; one would have thought a research library would want to snap that up, with a catalogue estimate of a modest $50-$75. Two works illustrated by Arthur Rackham sold well, but there was only limited interest in four items illustrated by Gustave Dore.
The small number of maps on offer generally sold well, top price being a very reasonable $500 for John Speede’s New Mappe of the Romane Empire (ca. 1625). The large number of prints offered did less well, with many being passed in or sold in batches for relatively small sums. Top price was $700 for a fine collection of 32 prints by Bartolozzi.
Stanley & Co. plan to hold at least two collectable book auctions a year, the next being scheduled for October, with a closing date for entries of late August.