Friday, May 21, 2010

Up For Bids: A Library Fit For A King

Highgrove House In Full Bloom.
(Image courtesy of

What would a library fit for a king, or at least a prince, contain? If you've ever wondered, the catalog for an upcoming sale at Bonham's New Bond Street in London is a chance to find out. The books, maps, photographs and manuscripts up for bids on June 8, 2010 are all part of the original library of the Highgrove Estate.

Currently the country home of H.R.H. Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Highgrove Estate is located in Gloucestershire, near the town of Doughton. The property has been owned by the Duchy of Cornwall since 1980, and it consists of the main house, built in the Georgian classical style sometime between 1796 and 1798, and 37 acres of parkland bordered by woods, and backing onto the Westonbirt Arboretum. There are also 900 acres of surrounding cultivated land, which is now a fully organic and sustainable farm managed by the Duchy.

Prince Charles's Garden At Highgrove.
(Image Courtesy of

The original owner of Highgrove House was a wealthy Huguenot, John Paul Paul. (Many of the items in the Bonham's sale carry his bookplate.) Three generations of the Paul family resided at Highgrove from 1799 to 1860, and each expanded its library. The family sold the estate after suffering a tragedy there: John Paul Paul's grand daughter, Mary Elizabeth, died when her dress caught fire at a soiree in honor of her brother in Highgrove's ballroom.

The house was once again sold in 1864 to a barrister and part-time landscape painter, William Yatman. It was completely restored in 1894 after another fire gutted the interior and damaged the west wall. The house as it stands today has has three reception rooms, a library, nine bedrooms, a nursery wing, and servants quarters. Highgrove was the weekend home of Princess Diana during her marriage to Prince Charles, and was the first country home of then-infant Princes William and Harry.

Befitting such a noble house, the library at Highgrove consists of books on subjects fundamental to the education and pleasure of an eighteenth or nineteenth century learned gentleman. Works by diarist John Evelyn, lexicographer Samuel Johnson, philosopher John Locke, and physicist Sir Isaac Newton are all part of the collection. Poetry is represented by Lord Byron, John Milton, and Thomas Gray. Fiction by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and William Makepeace Thackeray. And, of course, there are several Bibles, a set of Shakespeare's plays, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The First Issue of The Botanical Magazine, 1787.
(Image courtesy of University of Leeds.)

Not surprisingly for a country estate, the library has a heavy naturalist bent. One of the gems of the collection is a set of Volumes 1-60 (1787-1833) of The Botanical Magazine, or Flower-Garden Displayed. Founded by botanist and apothecary William Curtis, (and frequently referred to by a later title, Curtis's Botanical Magazine), it is the premier journal of botanical illustration and description. Initially, most of the plants featured in the magazine were from Europe, but public demand for uncommon species grew over the years, and many times the magazine offered the first exposure to exotic and foreign plants for European gardeners.

David Douglas (1799-1834), collected plant species in America on behalf of the Royal Horticultural Society. He travelled for eleven years, sending seeds and specimens back home at intervals; many of his plants flourished in England and were illustrated in the Botanical Magazine as they flowered. One of his finds, Diplopappus Incanus, is shown here. The accompanying text tells us that it is a native of California "where it was discovered by Mr Douglas."
(Image Courtesy of University of Glasgow.)

All of the volumes of the Botanical Magazine from Highgrove are illustrated with copper etchings hand-tinted with watercolors. At one point thirty artists were employed just to color the magazine's plates, each issue containing an average of three plates, and as many as 3,000 copies of a single issue being produced. Although such laborious hand work led inevitably to variations in quality, most of the plates remain fresh and bright even after 200 years. Curtis insisted that the engravings be as detailed and accurate as possible, or as he put it in Volume One, "always from the living plant, and coloured as near to nature, as the imperfection of colouring will admit." The set from Highgrove is expected to fetch between 10,000 and 15,000 GBP.

Illustration of "An Antipodean Species" By Frederick Nodder For George Shaw's
The Naturalist's Miscellany, c.1789.

(Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Another highlight of the Highgrove Library up for auction is a complete set of George Shaw and Frederick Polydore Nodder's The Naturalists Miscellany: Or, Coloured Figures Of Natural Objects; Drawn and Described Immediately From Nature (1789-1813), which also features hand colored, copperplate engravings, in this case of birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, fish, and shellfish. This lot is also estimated to bring in 10,000 to 15,000 GBP.

Phone, fax, and internet bids will be accepted from pre-registered buyers, for those who cannot attend the sale in person. But anyone who believes they deserve this library fit for a royal family will most likely be able to pay the freight over to London to bid in person.


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