Lockdown failed to hinder a headline-grabbing Library Auction which sparked global interest, giant prices and huge success at Hansons Auctioneers.
The online-only auction was broadcast live - with no viewing or public entry - but bidding was fierce around the world as determined collectors battled to own a piece of literary history.
Jim Spencer, Hansons’ book specialist, has been building these specialist events for the last three years, achieving record prices in almost every sale.
He said: “Once again, Harry Potter was the big news story across the world. A damaged hardback first issue of The Philosopher's Stone, rescued from a skip and destined for landfill, soared above its £8,000-£12,000 guide price to sell for £33,000 (Lot 24). The find, and result, made international headlines.
“Only 500 copies were printed of this true first edition, 300 of which were sent to schools and libraries. The Holy Grail for collectors, they represent the very beginning of the Harry Potter phenomenon.
“I’ve discovered three of these desirable hardbacks in the last year, the previous two selling for £28,500 and £46,000 respectively.
“An incredibly well-preserved first issue paperback of the same work sold for £6,500 (Lot 15A). I received it in the post just three days before the auction. Plus, we sold 16 other Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling lots, including signed books and works under Rowling’s pseudonym Robert Galbraith - all of which steamed ahead like the Hogwarts Express.”
But it wasn't only the young wizard - Harry, not Jim - who made big news. An autograph postcard written by DH Lawrence, and addressed to Louie Burrows prior to the couple's engagement, made national press - and rocketed above its £300-500 estimate to sell for £3,000 (Lot 10).
A letter written by Florence Nightingale, in which she requests half-a-dozen freshly laid eggs, also captured the public’s imagination and sold for £2,000 against a £500-600 estimate (Lot 25).
Another famous British historical figure prompted hot bidding on Lot 47. An iconic photographic war-time portrait of Winston Churchill by Walter Stoneman, signed by Churchill in black ink, sold for £2,000 against a £500-800 guide price.
The sal also boasted a rich array of first editions. For example, John Piper's Brighton Aquatints, 1939, sold for £2,300 (Lot 33), and an important copy of Roald Dahl's first published book, The Gremlins, 1943, made £6,500. This was a presentation copy to W.C. John Alexander, D.F.C., who formed a friendship with Dahl when they were serving in the RAF. It featured the intriguing inscription, 'To John, who wrote the bloody thing anyway'.
Antique maps, which add character and academic charm to any home library or study, attracted major interest too. A John Speed map of Cambridgeshire sold for £500 (Lot 117); a Blaeu & Gordon map of Scotland sold for £500 (Lot 122E), and a John Speed map of Cornwall reached £580 (Lot 126)
Jim is known for unearthing Valentines, and the sale included an important single-owner collection. Lot 150 comprised 103 Victorian Valentines, and sold for £1,350; two Georgian handmade cut-out Valentines dating from c.1790 sold for £1,000 (Lot 152); a single American Civil War Valentine, complete with patriotic envelope, sold for £420 (Lot 153), and an unusual silk cushioned Valentine by Jonathan King, c.1850, which featured a taxidermy hummingbird, sold for £580 (Lot 160).
Jim said: “The Library Auction finished on a high with a cheerful distraction from these strange times in the form of lots relating to comedian, entertainer, singer and 1940s film star George Formby, a man who raised morale during the Second World War.
“This important single-owner collection included two of George's original banjo ukuleles (Lot 168 and Lot 169), which sold for £11,000 and £10,500 respectively.”
Other Formby lots to do well included a novelty table lamp (Lot 170), which was given to George by Noel Gay, who wrote song Leaning on a Lamp-post). It sold for £4,000.
George’s personal scrapbook, recording his tour of Australia in 1947, sold for £2,400 (Lot 171); the original shooting script for Let George Do It, 1939, sold for £650 (Lot 173) and two folders of George Formby Senior’s assignment letters (Lot 174 and Lot 179A) sold for £1,000 and £1,500 respectively.
Other items to fascinate Formby fans included a suitcase containing Formby family photographs (Lot 178), which was salvaged from a pile of rubble in the Baltic Chambers, Newcastle. It sold for £2,200. And Jim will never forget Lot 179, a life-size model of George Formby, complete with real hair, which sold for £420.
Jim said: “The model was securely strapped into my passenger seat for a five-hour drive back from the vendor's property, eliciting some interesting reactions from fellow motorists. A heart-warming end to the sale came with the news that the Formby family had successfully purchased four of the lots to enrich their family archives - including the model of Formby.”
Jim Spencer is now inviting entries for his next Library Auction, date to be confirmed, and is happy to assess single objects or large collections. For more information, please email Jim Spencer: [email protected]