by Romeyn B Hough
Last month’s most expensive sales on AbeBooks span five centuries of natural history, physics and philosophy, and fiction. There are also two significant contributions from 20th century artists and the ultimate book for North American tree-spotters.
The oldest book to sell last month, published in 1554, was also our most expensive - Aquatilium animalium historiae, a study of Mediterranean fish, from a Vatican doctor called Ippolito Salviani, who trawled the fish markets of Rome for samples.
Just one modern first edition appears on the list, Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck, which sold for £8,958. This novel is set in Monterey, California, where a group of friends are enjoying life after the travails of World War I, and its success helped put the author on the literary map. A signed first edition of Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle also sold for £9,300 last September.
Take a quick look at the 10th item on our list - American Woods by Romeyn B Hough. This series details American trees by including ultra-thin cross-cut samples of their grains. Full sets (parts one to 14) are rare and this sale was for the first nine parts.
2. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck - £8,958
A 1935 Covici Friede first edition, complete with its dust jacket. Illustrated by Ruth Gannett, one of 4,000 copies, this was Steinbeck’s breakthrough book. This copy is inscribed by the author to the head of the production department at Covici Friede.
3. Indiae utriusque Re naturali et medica libri quatuordecim, Quorum contenta pagina sequens exhibet. (3 Parts) by Guilherme Piso - £8,462
Published in Amsterdam in 1658, this famous textbook contains around 650 fine wood-cut illustrations of fish, birds, plants, snakes, insects and other animals. This book was the only illustrated work of Brazilian natural history and native medicine until the 19th century. This work, sometimes called the second edition, is a revised and extended version of Historia Naturalis Brasiliae from 1648. Piso’s work includes many descriptions of disease and native remedies. Piso became one of the earliest authorities on tropical medicine.
4. = Daphne - by Alfred de Vigny - £7,465
Published in 1924 by F.L. Schmied, this book contains 49 color wood engravings by Francois-Louis Schmied and is considered an Art Deco masterpiece thanks to its abstract illustrations and rich use of color. De Vigny (1797-1863) was a French poet, playwright and novelist. This novel was published posthumously in 1912. One of 140 copies signed by Schmied.
4. = Toros y Toreros by Pablo Picasso - £7,465
Published in Paris by Editions Cercle d’Art in 1961, this is Picasso’s famous book of bullfighting-inspired art (pictured left). This first edition is one of 150 copies of a deluxe edition. The book is dated and signed by the artist in pencil.
6. Symbolae Physicae Icones et Descriptiones Insectorum quae ex Itinere per Africam Borealem et Asiam Occidentalem Friderici Guilelmi Hemprich et Christiani Godofredi Ehrenberg . Studio Novae aut Illustratae redierunt by F.G Hemprich and C.G.Ehrenberg - £7,366
Published in 1829 in five volumes with 50 fine hand-colored engraved plates, this is a very rare copy of a seminal work on the insects of western Asia and northern Africa. The authors travelled widely between 1820 and 1825 to gather the book’s content.
7. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Salvador Dali - £6,868
The 1969 Random House edition signed by Dali, who provided 12 color plates. This is number 533 of 2,500 copies. Similar copies sold for £12,075 in January and £4,673 in November 2013.
8. Con L'espositione Di Christoforo Landino, et Di Alessandro Vellutello, Sopra la Sua Comedia Dell' Inferno, Del Purgatorio, & Del Paradiso. Con Tauole, Argomenti, & Allegorie, & Riformato, Riueduto, & Ridotto Alla Sua Uere Lettura, Per Francesco Sansovino Fiorentino by Alighieri Dante - £6,240
A beautifully illustrated 16th century Italian edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. This ‘Sansovino’ edition, from 1564, is bound in mid-20th century red morocco with a spine in seven compartments. This book provides two commentaries on Dante’s famous text and a ‘Big Nose’ portrait of Dante on the title page (pictured right).
9. Principia Philosophiae (bound with) Specimina Philosophiae: Seu Dissertatio De Methodo Recte regendae rationis, & veritatis in scientiis investigandae: Dioptrice Et Meteora by Rene Descartes - £6,010
Published in Amsterdam in 1644. Two works in one volume, both first Latin editions. Principia details Descartes’ system of physics, including his theory of vortices. This book, where he states we are circling the sun, is the starting point for all serious work in physical theory in the mid-17th century, including Isaac Newton’s. Specimina is Descartes’ most famous work is which he describes that true knowledge must come from the work of a single person and that all existing philosophical learnings should be doubted. Descartes was arguably the first modern philosopher and one of the first modern scientists.
10. American Woods (Parts 1-9) by Romeyn B Hough - £5,673
Nine of 14 parts, published from 1893 to 1903, the 14th book was published after Hough’s death in 1924. This rare book offers transverse, radial, and tangential wafer-thin cross-sections samples of common American trees. It shows readers how to identify trees by looking at the grain. Complete sets are scarce as buyers tended to purchase volumes for particular regions. More than a thousand different trees are detailed across the series.