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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Book Auctions

De Cordes Sale, 1643

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Naudé, Gabriel.

Bibliothecae Cordesianae catalogus cum indice titulorum. — Paris: A. Vitray, 1643.

Although created to facilitate the sale of the 8,000-volume library of Jean des Cordes (1560–1642), canon of Limoges, this catalogue is neither a book auction catalogue nor a dealer catalogue, but the record of a “sale by private treaty.” It was the first catalogue of a private library to be classified strictly by subject, an arrangement so novel and useful that for the rest of the seventeenth century the book continued to serve both as a general bibliography and as a guide to forming a private library.  

Purchased from the Harper Fund.

Lazarus Seaman Sale, 1676

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Catalogus variorum & insignium librorum … bibliothecae … Lazari Seaman. — London: E. Brewster & W. Cooper, 1676.

The first English book auction catalogue. Auctions on the now-familiar “ascending-price” model were a recent import from the Netherlands, and the preface to this catalogue is both an introduction to and a sales-pitch for the new practice. Lazarus Seaman (d. 1675) was a Puritan divine and one-time master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, but he is remembered today primarily because of his connection with the first English book auction. 

Gift of the children of W. S. Davis, 1941.

First Book Auction Records

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Ferwerda, Abraham.

Catalogus universalis cum pretiis of de boek-negotie …. — Leeuwarden: A. Ferwerda & G. Tresling, [1772–1779?]. 24 volumes.

These are the earliest printed book auction records, with entries for approximately 60,000 titles and prices realized at about 300 Dutch auctions held between 1702 and 1778. The volumes are a gold mine of uniquely valuable information about the Dutch booktrade in the eighteenth century: what was sold, when, by whom, and for how much; and they often provide bibliographical details not found elsewhere.  

Purchased from the Harper Fund.

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Rowlandson, Thomas.

A print sale, 1788.

Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) was known for his satirical portraits of eighteenth century English life, and here he takes on print collectors and the sellers of prints. The auctioneer sits with his gavel at center, while his assistants display prints singly and in bound volumes. The bidders display all the traits Rowlandson loved to caricature: greed, envy, stupidity, arrogance, and dull complacency. While he skewers the collectors and their mania for acquisition, the jovial and prosperous-looking auctioneer is let off relatively lightly.

La Vallière Sale, 1783–1784

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Catalogue des livres de la bibliothèque de feu M. le duc de La Vallière. — Paris:  G. de Bure fils aîné, 1783–1784.

One of the greatest book sales, and one of the most extraordinary catalogues, of the eighteenth century. The library of Louis-César de La Baume Le Blanc, duc de La Vallière (1708–1780),was intended to be disposed of in two sales.  The catalogue for the first part, consisting of 5,668 lots, was printed in 1783, and the sale was held in January 1784, bringing the then-fabulous sum of 464,677 livres, 8 sous.  A catalogue for the second sale was printed later that year, but the 26,537 lots were eventually sold en bloc. They were later acquired by the comte d’Artois (later Charles X), and after he fled the country in 1789, the books were confiscated by the state to form the core of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal.  

Gift of Lucius Wilmerding, 1934.

Roxburghe Sale, 1812

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The library of the late John, Duke of Roxburghe … which will be sold by auction …. — London: Robert H. Evans, 1812.

The sale of the library of John Ker, Duke of Roxburghe (1740–1804) inaugurated the English golden age of book collecting. The Grolier Club copy of the auction catalogue, from the library of John Roland Abbey, is priced in a contemporary hand, and annotated throughout with buyers’ names; laid-in is a manuscript leaf in the same hand giving a blow-by-blow account of the bidding on lot 6292, the fabled Valdarfer Decameron. The first meeting of the Roxburghe Club was held that evening when, at the suggestion of Thomas Frognall Dibdin, eighteen gentlemen gathered for dinner at the St. Alban’s Tavern to celebrate the day’s events.  

William Morris at Auction

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Book auction catalogues annotated by William Morris and Sir Sydney Cockerell, 1892–1895. 

A close look at the doodlings in this unattractively-bound group of catalogues reveals the penciled sketches, marks and comments of William Morris (1834–1896), and the lots he marked made their way into his library, where they influenced his decorative designs for Morris & Co., and the books he produced at the Kelmscott Press.  

Purchased from the Harper Fund.

Nineteenth-Century Book Auctions

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Catalogue of an extensive collection of choice books … to be sold at auction, on Wednesday evening, November 18th. — New York: Bangs, Richards & Platt, [1846].

Book auction catalogues were often produced as large single sheet advertisements, but surviving copies are extremely rare. The wonderfully miscellaneous selection includes multiple remainder copies of standards such as Fox’s Book of Martyrs and Pope’s Poetical works, as well as the Encyclopedia Americana, Gibbons’ Doctrine [sic] and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Dewar’s Dictionary of the Gaelic Language. The auction house of Bangs, Richards & Platt, in business since about 1838, changed its name to Bangs, Brother & Co. in 1852.


Robert Hoe Sale, 1911

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Catalogue of the library of Robert Hoe of New York …. — New York: Anderson Galleries, 1911–1912. 4 parts, 8 volumes.

Robert Hoe III (1839–1909), third-generation proprietor of the Hoe firm of printing press manufacturers, was a founding member of the Grolier Club and voracious collector of books and art.  The sale of Hoe’s library in 1911 and 1912 was a landmark in American book collecting.  His collection of some 20,000 volumes realized $1,932,000, the largest total of any book auction to that time. The winning bidders were almost entirely wealthy American bibliophiles like Henry E. Huntington and Harry Elkins Widener, signaling the rising dominance of American collectors in the antiquarian book market.