Historic artefacts lead Sotheby's rare book sale



2015-07-15 14:35:49

Rare and historic artefacts were amongst the highlights of the most recent Sotheby's sale of English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations.

Aside from a wealth of rare volumes, documents and illustrations, the London auction also included numerous objects of huge historical value – all of which were snapped up by collectors.

The highest price of the sale was achieved by the 1953 Nobel Prize medal awarded to Hans Kreb, whose work uncovered how all living organisms convert food into fuel. Kreb's ideas then helped shape scientific understanding of the origins of life itself, and his medal topped the auction at £275,000.

The second biggest-selling lot was a highly rare German WWII Enigma code machine. Built in 1943, the machine was one of hundreds used by the Nazis to transmit coded messages which they believed to be unbreakable. However, work by Polish cryptologists and a team of experts at Bletchley Park, led by the 'Father of Modern Computing' Alan Turing, cracked the code and helped bring the war to a swift conclusion. Few of the machines survived the war, and this remarkably preserved example doubled its high estimate to realize £149,000.

The sale then turned from WWII to the Battle of Waterloo, as bidders had the chance to acquire one of the Duke of Wellington's cloaks, said to have been worn on the battlefield on the fateful day of June 18, 1815. Having been passed down from Lady Caroline Lamb, with whom the Duke had a brief affair in Brussels, the cloak had spent more than 150 years in the collection of a single family before it hit the auction block. Valued at £20,000-£30,000, it eventually sold for £47,500.

The final slice of history was the smallest, but perhaps the most significant: a sample of Alexander Fleming's original Penicillin mould, with which he made one of the biggest breakthroughs in medical history and saved millions of lives. The sample had been gifted to Colonel Sir Russell Wilkinson, a key figure in the wartime development of antibiotics alongside Flemming, and sold more than half a century on for £7,500.

In total the London sale achieved a result of £1.44 million.

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