Top 10: Rare book & manuscript sales in 2012
10) A Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn autographed Melusine manuscript - $705,428
A new genre of nineteenth-century instrumental music was inaugurated by Mendelssohn with his four great concert overtures (Sommernachtstraum, Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, Die Hebriden and Melusine), which were written between 1825 and 1835. Considered by Mendelssohn as one of his best works, the Melusine overture is a masterpiece in the mould of his other great 'fairy-tale' composition, the Midsummer Night's Dream overture. This full score of the concert overture sold at Sotheby's in November.
9) "A plan of New York Island…" by Charles Blaskowitz - $782,500
One of the finest examples of Blaskowitz's cartographic achievements, this 6-sheet manuscript map remains one of the most important and detailed manuscript maps of the American revolutionary war. It sold at Christie's New York in December.
8) "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Julia Ward manuscript - $782,500
This unique working manuscript of one of the most famous American battle hymns of the Civil War sold at Christie's New York in December. The cover sheet and presentation inscription are written in Ward's usually neat and elegantly cursive hand, while the lines are perfectly horizontal, parallel and evenly spaced. The verses themselves, however, are written in a very different fashion: the lines wander and weave over the paper, Ward's hand is extremely hurried and at times very difficult to read - all characteristics to be expected of a manuscript written in semi-darkness, in a flush of inspiration.
7) An incredibly rare manuscript written in ancient Welsh - $840,000
Entitled The Laws of Hywel Dda, the manuscript details the civil instructions presided over by King Howel the Good (circa 880-950) during his reign of medieval Wales. Over the course of 99 vellum leaves, Howel lays out a number of surprisingly liberal laws, including compensating the victims of crime instead of punishing the perpetrators, and offers reimbursement to women should their husbands commit adultery.
It sold at a Sotheby's London sale in July.
6) A complete set of Edward S Curtis' The North American Indian - $1.4m
The extraordinary book was consigned to auction by the renowned dealer John King, who commented: "This set, which contains splendid rare photographic folio plates, many with Curtis' signature and accompanying handsome text volumes, parallels the importance of the original Audobon, and deserves to be shared with collectors who can appreciate its scarcity, artistry and the recording of a great peoples." It sold at Swann Auction Galleries in October.
5) An original copy of Abraham Lincoln's emancipation proclamation - $2.1m
The Emancipation Proclamation was created by Lincoln in 1863, in order to free the slaves held within the 10 rebellious states that opposed his Union forces. An act of heroic bravery, the proclamation was not a law passed by congress, but an order issued by Lincoln as commander in chief of the Army and Navy, a role which gave him martial power to suspend civil law in the Confederate states. It sold at Robert A. Seigel Auctions in July.
4) The Mahzor - $2.41m
This Mahzor (a kind of Jewish prayer book) includes prayers for the entire liturgical year and is comparable to the Rothschild Mahzor, which is now housed in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. Like the Rothschild Mahzor, this edition was created in 15th century Florence, Italy, and is richly embellished with intricate designs. It sold at Christie's in May.
3) John James Audubon's Birds of America - $7.9m
This is the famous elephant-folio edition of Audubon's work, showing extraordinary images of America's birds, for which the edition number probably ran to around 200. Of these, 13 remain in private hands. Completed and published over 11 years from 1827 to 1838, it is considered one of the highest achievements in the field of ornithological art. It sold at Christie's in January.
2) George Washington's personal, annotated copy of The Acts of Congress - $9.8m
George Washington's leather-bound copy of The Acts of Congress exhibits the American president's annotations. Following its $9.8m sale in New York, the work has now become the most valuable American book or historic document ever sold at auction. The dazzling sale represents an impressive 226.6% increase on the book's initial $2-3m valuation.
1) Europe's oldest book - $14.3m
A manuscript copy of The Gospel of St John was acquired by the British Library in April. The book, known as the St Cuthbert Gospel, dates from the seventh century and is the oldest complete European book in existence. It was discovered in the coffin of St Cuthbert, who was buried on the island of Lindisfarne around AD 698.
The manuscript looks almost new, with its original leather binding in incredible condition given its age. It was acquired from the Society of Jesus, who had asked auction house Christie's to approach the British Library as a first choice for the purchase of the book. Funding for the purchase came mostly from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which was established to protect works of art for the nation.
The book is to be displayed at the Library in a special exhibit documenting its fantastic journey through history, as well as in Durham following an agreement between the British Library and Durham Cathedral.
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