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Anthony Hobson (1921-2014) succeeded his father, Geoffrey Hobson (1882-1949), as a director of Sotheby's in charge of the book department and as a historian of bookbinding and book collecting. These activities were of course closely related and their scholarly researches and publications often grew out of the observations and discoveries they made as auctioneers. The collector who most profited from their advice was Major Abbey, whose English bindings (1490-1940) were the subject of an important monograph by the father, handsomely produced in 1940 by the Chiswick Press and with a dedication ‘To Our Friends and Allies, the People of France’, which so moved the director of the Bibliothèque nationale, Julien Cain. The son's first book was French and Italian Collectors and their Bindings in the Library of J.R. Abbey, published in 1953 for the Roxburghe Club, which N. Barker in his obituary of Dr. Hobson for The Independent called ‘an astonishingly mature work for one just 30’. His expertise in medieval and illuminated manuscripts was considerable, too, and his greatest successes at Sotheby's were the Dyson Perrins manuscript sales (1958-59) and the ‘New Series’ of Phillipps sales (1965-77).
Anthony Hobson was an indefatigable traveller and he probably visited and worked in more libraries than any other bibliographer or book historian. His Great Libraries (1970) might well be called the finest and most learned coffee-table book, if it were not consulted every day as an indispensable work of reference. This is not the place to describe in detail his numerous scholarly publications, starting with Apollo and Pegasus and ending with a forthcoming book on Italian Renaissance bookbindings, an œuvre that may safely be called the most important of the post-war period as his father's had been between the two world wars. If G.D. Hobson as no-one else knew how to relate binding ornament to other applied arts (architecture, cameos, silver, engraving, furniture, etc.), in all of which he had outstanding expertise, A.R.A. Hobson ignored no historical aspect of binding decoration and his most original – in fact, path-breaking – approach was to integrate the painstaking study and identification of binders and ateliers with the wider study of artistic patronage and humanistic interest, particularly during the Renaissance. He was Sandars Reader at Cambridge (1974-75), Lyell Reader at Oxford (1990-91), Franklin Jasper Walls Lecturer at the Pierpont Morgan Library (1979), President of the Bibliographical Society (1977-79), Fellow of the British Academy, trustee of Eton College Collections and other institutions.
Hobson père et fils left a unique working library and an important archive of notes and scholarly correspondence, but in Anthony's case it is easy to forget that he was also an active and imaginative collector. His illustrated books of the Italian Baroque and a portion of his 20th-century English literature were sold at auction during his lifetime. In the 1980s he sold a series of English artistic bookbindings, commissioned by his father, to Bernard Breslauer (see Christie's NY, 21 March 2005). Christie's are honoured to offer the final portion of his English literature and in this sale the antiquarian bibliography and the early private-library and auction-sale catalogues. Here can be found the legendary bibliophile sale catalogues that today's collector sadly has little occasion to consult: Baluze, Crevenna, Currer, Du Fay, Girardot de Préfonds, Lamoignon, La Vallière, Libri, Loménie de Brienne, MacCarthy-Reagh, Mérard de Saint-Just, Mme de Pompadour, Count Reviczky, l'Abbé Rive, Rothelin, and many others that have become rare books worthy of collecting in addition to remaining indispensable tools for tracing provenance. Dr. Hobson was president of the Association Internationale de Bibliophilie and of the Bibliographical Society, a member of the Roxburghe Club and the Société des bibliophiles françois, and Honorary Foreign Corresponding Member of the Grolier Club of New York.