Books & Manuscripts auction: Sotheby's devotes 'whole day' to rare works

Sotheby's Paris will be devoting a whole day to Books and Manuscripts on 9 November 2011, staging two sales.

The first will be devoted to Books & Manuscripts, Including the Library of a Connoisseur: History of Ideas, Science & Letters (2:30pm); the second (6:30pm) to a Collection of Precious Books from a Connoisseur's Library. 

The first sale begins with a collection of 70 emblematic books about the history of science and ideas. All embody a discovery in, or new contribution to, the field of knowledge, ranging from Descartes to Pavlov via Napoleon's Civil Code, printed on vellum, and a handwritten manuscript signed Niépce that constitutes the 'birth certificate' of photography. 

The sale's star lot is an ensemble of 126 French revolutionary decrees (3 November 1789 - 12 September 1790) printed on vellum, and formerly owned by the Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt. Each Lettre Patente ratifies a decree of the French Revolution, then in full swing, beginning with the Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen.

The first illustrated Bible in German by Günther Zainer, dated to 1475

This counts as one of the most precious documentary ensembles on the history of France (est. €350,000-500,000).

Another exceptional book is a superb, complete copy of the first illustrated Bible in German by Günther Zainer (1475), with a remarkable stamped pigskin binding on wooden boards (est. €200,000-300,000).

The name of Günther Zainer carries an extraordinary lustre in the history of Western Europe printing, and is associated with the development of pre-1500 printing, and especially the invention of illustrated books. 

The first, and only official, edition of the Napoleonic Codes, printed on vellum and bound with the cipher of Third Consul Charles-François Lebrun, will doubtless attract keen attention.

The Code Civil des Français (1804) and Code de Procédure Civile (1806) established a veritable compromise between ancient custom, Roman law and Revolutionary Law, thereby officialising the 'bourgeois revolution' under Napoleon (est. €100,000-150,000). 

A French revolutionary decree manuscript, inscribed at its bottom right

Another important item from the collection is a handwritten document from 1829, signed Niépce, titled Notice sur l'Héliographie (est. €35,000-50,000).

The eight highly legible pages, written in an elegant yet precise style, are of major interest for the history of photography and, in fact, are said to constitute the 'birth certificate' of photography. 

Closing the sale, a rare Serge Gainsbourg ensemble of handwritten songs, autograph notes, photographs and memorabilia. Watch this space for more news on the auction.


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