31 March 2008

Great Book Finds. Aurel Stein and the Diamond Sutra ( Dunhuang 1907) Part 1

Among the great finds one will always have to number the late great Colin Frost's discovery of the Malthus letters at a house sale on the Isle of Wight. A richly deserved find by one of the top post war dealers possessed of incredible intuitive powers and boundless enthusiasm. Also the book dealers who found the 'Blair's Grave' portfolio of 19 William Blake drawings in 2004 and became millionaires (the unfortunate art broker who broke them up appears to have merely broken even which in my book means a loss...) The prize for lateral thinking goes to the guy who approached the French printer Darantiere (who printed most of the great expat books in the 1930s) and bought up a lorry load of multiples and proof copies. The great Catholic bookseller John Thornton made a goodish buy of 16th century religious rarities and incunabula in a West Country monastery in 2006 enabling a very comfortable retirement. Sadly he closed his shop in Fulham which had been the richest source of good books for sale in Britain and a very pleasant place to hang out. Talking of religious books, a dealer I met in Italy told me a monk walked into his father's shop in the shadow of the Duomo (Milan) in 1945 with a vellum Gutenberg bible but he wanted $2000 (or lire equivalent) and his dad was broke so the monk disappeared with his booty. One that got away.

An incredible collection of modern first editions, mostly fine in jackets turned up in the 1980s in a shed in the Australian desert causing dealers to fly in from New York, Berkeley and Santa Barbara. One must not forget the Denis Wheatley library (in supernatural condition) royal collecttions like King Baudoin of Begium, country house libraries, the fabulous file libraries of publishers like Warne, Edwin Arnold and Reginald Ashley Caton and the collections of major dealers like Eric Quayle, Charles Traylen and Tony Hattersley. Then there is the art dealer who recently donated £100 millions worth of art to the nation who earlier in his career had tracked down the wonderful 90s collection of Marc Andre Raffalovich and John Gray--again in a monastery. The recent discovery of 50000 mod firsts, mostly signed, at the house of the murdered attorney Rolland Comstock has been widely reported and celebrated. However the 'Comstock Lode' is like a box of dog eared paperbacks compared to the find made by the great explorer Aurel Stein as he travelled down the Silk Road in 1907. Continued in part two...
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