Head of Sale
1. A 9th-century survivor
The ‘Gospels of Queen Theutberga’. Lotharingia, perhaps Metz, c. 825-850. Estimate: £1,000,000-1,500,000. This and the other works featured in this story are offered in our sale of Valuable Books and Manuscripts including Cartography in London on 15 July.
A highlight of the 2015 international auction calendar, the ‘Gospels of Queen Theutberga’ is a splendid and very rare survival of a 9th-century book production. This is the oldest Western manuscript of the gospels still in private hands and one of the best preserved 9th-century manuscripts in existence. Given its superb condition and legendary royal provenance, it is unlikely that a comparable work will ever be seen at auction again.
2. Sword of honour
Lawrence of Arabia’s silver-gilt Jambiya dagger. Estimate: £60,000-90,000
T.E. Lawrence’s magnificent dagger recalls the turbulence and drama of the Arab Revolt (1916-1918). It was given to Lawrence by Sherif Nasir after their victory at Aqaba in June 1917, and commemorates the campaign that secured Lawrence’s reputation as the dashing hero of Arabia. It is the only Lawrence dagger still in private hands and boasts impeccable provenance, having come into the possession of the sculptress Kathleen Scott, widow of the Antarctic explorer, when Lawrence sat for her. It is now offered by her descendants.
3. Before they were famous
E.H. Shepard (1879-1976) and A.A. Milne (1882-1956). Vespers, an original manuscript and drawing. Estimate: £30,000-50,000
This wonderful collaborative piece hits the mark on so many levels. The image of the bear cast aside may well be the first representation of Winnie the Pooh, the world’s most famous teddy bear. It is also a rare instance of both Milne and Shepard at work on the same leaf. The poem appeared in the first of the Pooh books, When We Were Very Young, which a contemporary reviewer called ‘the greatest children’s book since Alice’. This charming piece evokes one of the most successful partnerships between author and artist at an early stage, when they were on the cusp of worldwide fame.
4. But is it art?
Man Ray (1890-1976). An album of gelatin silver prints, c. 1920-c. 1930. Estimate: £60,000-90,000
In this Instagram world where we’re all photographers, it’s easy to forget what the early masters of the medium went through — not least endless debates about whether or not photography is art. This remarkable album provides a unique insight into Man Ray’s practice at its peak. In it he collects together dozens of photographs shot with different cameras and lenses in order to showcase the impact that specific equipment has on his work. The album reveals a degree of intent and introspection which I find totally fascinating — I’ve never seen another like it.
5. A different world
Francis Drake (c. 1540-1596). La heroike interprise faict par le Signeur Drake. Probably Antwerp, c. 1590. Estimate: £40,000-60,000
This extraordinarily rare map, one of only two known copies, records Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe — one of the great triumphs of the Elizabethan era. It is one of the earliest maps to name California and shows Drake’s landing place near present-day San Francisco. Its appearance, at once modern and archaic, is very appealing: South America appears distorted, there’s an imaginary southern continent and the Nile bisects Africa, yet North America is clearly delineated and the Arctic territory of Novaya Zemlya appears in the right place as does the Southeast Asian archipelago.
6. Celebrity doctors
Hans Sloane’s copy of Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica. Basel: 1543. Estimate: £70,000-100,000
Vesalius’ Google Maps for the human body is an incredibly important work in its own right: it was a revolutionary publication at a time when human dissection was still profoundly taboo. But what I like most about this copy is that it belonged to Hans Sloane, the royal physician and renowned connoisseur whose collection became the foundation of the British Museum. The provenance was not recorded when the book came to us and I will always remember that moment of discovery when it clicked and I put all the pieces together. Specialists live for that rush — the memory of it keeps us going while we look through mountains of family bibles!