Last week, an Oxfam shop in Teignmouth, UK was handed seven books by a philanthropist as a donation. Of these, six were not particularly unusual, but the donor commented "I think that you will find this one very interesting" about the seventh before leaving with a smile.
Nobody in the shop had seen the "retired, well-dressed gentleman" before or since.
The book, A Trip to the Highlands of Viti Levu by Gerrard Ansdell is a rare copy of a fascinating story, told primarily through a series of photographs. Two brothers, both scientists, set off from Melbourne in 1881 to find their long-lost brother, thought to be growing coffee in Fiji.
The search was eventually successful, and 44 large, fascinating images of Fiji in the dry season in the late 19th century have been preserved in the book.
Realising that the book was not for the shop window, the shop manager had it evaluated and sold at Bonhams' India and Beyond auction in London. It was given a guide price of £2,000-3,000, but leapt past this due to a lively period of bidding.
The book finally sold for £37,200 making it the most valuable donation ever made to Oxfam, at 23,000 their average book sale price.
Gerrard Ansdell's book had a very limited print run, and only one other copy has appeared at auction, in Australia back in 1977.
It's not unheard of for donations to charity to be made using rare collectibles, and not just superstar memorabilia. For example, rare coins sometimes appear in donation boxes which would never normally be mixed with change.
Collectors interested in collectible photography books may be interested to know that a signed copy of Yousuf Karsh's Fifty-Year Retrospective is currently available.
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