Jim Spencer on the wealth of treasures in his October Library Auction

Posted on 25/10/2018 in Press Coverage

ere Jim Spencer, Head of Books and Works on Paper at Hansons Auctioneers, reveals the top lots in his October Library Auction - including a hidden gem found in the nick of time which sold for £65,000.

What could be more tempting, in the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness', than a curious old tome and a large glass of something rich and warming?

Our quarterly Library Auction of Books & Works on Paper has been making headlines around the world with its unusual offerings - we'll never forget the 300-year-old sex manual - and breaking records with its hammer prices.

I work hard to deliver the best results for my clients and to bring books to the widest audience; I don't believe books should be elitist or unnecessarily stuffy or academic.

I enjoy a little pomposity as much as the next antiquarian book enthusiast, but I do like to find a sales angle to generate excitement around every object that I catalogue.

As much as I love the peace and solitude of being away from a computer, I understand the importance of presenting items to the international market with enticing descriptions. The internet has democratised the antiques industry, and it's good to think that collectors can buy comfortably and confidently at auction, just like they would from a retailer.

And so, once again, we witnessed the buzz of a book sale, with collectors exploring the bookcases and cabinets, enthusing about the wonderful old leather-bound volumes, and all in the glorious setting of Bishton Hall, a beautiful ivy-clad Georgian mansion in Staffordshire.

The best things always turn up at the eleventh hour. I'll never forget the Medieval illuminated manuscript Psalter that arrived in the post just 30 minutes before the catalogue was going to print, with a note stating, 'it's probably nothing, but I forgot to show you when you visited the house'.

This time it was a first edition of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, discovered at the last minute beneath a silver cabinet, where the family used to store hymn books and boxing gloves. It was a magical moment and I had to catch my breath when I saw it. It sailed above guide price to fetch £65,000.

A manuscript night-watchman's journal dating from the 1830s generated huge interest from the moment I first mentioned it. I found myself being interviewed at radio stations to discuss the wonderful entries recorded in its pages (one poor fellow was imprisoned for three months for scrumping six pears), and I was confident that it would race past its conservative guide price of £300-400.

It sold to a private collector in the UK for £2,100. From the same house in Belper I discovered a soldier's diary and sketch book recording a tour of India in the 1850s which rocketed away for £3,400.

My reputation for erotic literature shows no sign of diminishing, and a very scarce part-set of the Marquis de Sade's notorious work, Justine, dated 1797, clearly aroused the interest of bidders as it reached its climax at £8,200. Napoleon Bonaparte famously ordered the destruction of this work and so it was a thrill to discover this elusive and beautifully bound collection.

Among the more unusual works on paper was an interesting set of autograph letters revealing a spat between Churchill and 'Monty', which fetched £1,300.

Meanwhile, a little handmade 18th-century Valentine's card, a love token or puzzle purse, soared to £750. A super archive of Rolls-Royce ephemera raced away for £1,400. And an interesting album of 19th-century photographs of the English landed gentry galloped to £800.

As for curiosities, well, there were the cased sets of prosthetic glass eyes (£3,200), an original Wicca witch's wand made by Alex Sanders (£520) and Pope Leo XIII's skull-cap (£440).

The Library Auction at Hansons is well-known by map collectors, and this sale didn't disappoint. We had some important 17th-century maps by Joan Blaeu, including the Moscow Kremlin in Russia (£1,800) and Lithuania (£700). An interesting early-18th century map of Malta by Alexis-Hubert Jaillot sold for £1,000; a John Speed map of Poland fetched £800, and a double-hemisphere world map by Adam Friedrich Zürner went under the gavel for £1,350.

The prints section of the sale was a popular event with a number of signed limited editions by Jack Vettriano (including Game On, which fetched £620), an etching of a boy by Gerald Brockhurst (£380), a signed Artist Proof by Norman Ackroyd (£520) and a very scarce set of 18th-century engravings depicting an initiation ceremony at a secret society (£800).

I now look forward to the next Library Auction in December, and already I am burrowing like a mole through a hill of books (I have just received 350 different editions of The Compleat Angler!), so I intend to maintain the momentum and passion to build yet another exciting and fruitful sale.