Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Books Prices - Auction Sales In The Seventeenth Century

( Originally Published 1898 )

THE exact date of the first introduction into England of the convenient plan of selling books by auction is known to us through the amiable weakness of the auctioneers for writing prefaces to the sale catalogues ; and this history, therefore, is singularly unlike that of most other inventions and customs, the origin of which is usually open to doubt, because the originators have not thought it worth while to explain that they were doing some new thing. The auctioneers, on the other hand, tell us which was the first sale, and which were the second, the third, and the fourth. After this the freshness may be said to be exhausted, and we are contented with less exact particulars.

The custom was prevalent in Holland in the middle of the seventeenth century, and the honour of introducing it into England is due to William Cooper, the bookseller of Little Britain, about whom some notice has been given in a former chapter. He was largely interested in alchemy, and three years before he sold his first sale he published a "Catalogue of Chemical Books."

We must not, however, suppose that this was the introduction of auctions into England, for sale by inch of candle had long been practised here, a plan adopted by the Navy Office for the sale of their old stores.

The earliest use of the word auction, quoted by Dr. Murray in the "New English Dictionary," is from Warner's translation of Plautus, 1595 : "The auction of Menaechmus, . . . when will be sold slaves, household goods," &c. ; and the next quotation is from the Appendix to Phillip's Dictionary, 1678 : "Auction, a making a publick sale and selling of goods by an outcry." We shall see that the word was far from familiar to the general public, as the auctioneers considered it wise to explain the word, thus : "Sale of hooks by way of auction, or who will give most for them." The more usual words in old English were outcry, outrope (still familiar in Scotland as roup, of. German ruf) and port sale.

The first sale by auction was that of the library of Lazarus Seaman, a member of the Assembly of Divines, and chaplain to the Earl of Northumberland. He was also minister of All Hallows, Bread Street, and Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. In the latter college a Diary written by him between 1645 and 16571s preserved. Ile seems to have been an active man on his own side in politics, and we find that he was a member of the Committee for ejecting Scandalous Ministers for London and the Counties of Cambridge and Huntingdon. It is therefore not surprising to find that at the Restoration he was ejected both from his living and from the Mastership of Peterhouse. He died at his house in Warwick Court, London, in September 1675, and in the following year his library was sold in his house by Cooper, who makes the following interesting remarks in his preface

" Reader, it bath not been usual here in England to make sale of Books by way of auction, or who will give most for them : But it having been practised in other countreys to the advantage both of buyers and sellers, it was therefore conceived (for the encouragement of Learning) to publish the sale of these Books this manner of way, and it is hoped that this will not be unacceptable to Schollers. . . . "

Mr. Alfred W. Pollard, in a very valuable article on English Book Sales, 1676-8o (Bibliographica, vol. i. p. 373), quotes an interesting letter from David Millington to Joseph Hill, an English Nonconformist minister in Holland, dated June 1697, and now preserved in the British Museum (Stowe MS., 709), in which the writer tenders to the divine his thanks for the "great service done to learning and learned men in your first advising and effectually setting on foot that admirable and universally approved way of selling librarys amongst us ; " and distinctly states that it was Hill who "happily introduced the practice into England." Mr. Pollard goes on to say that " Hill, who from 1673 to 1678, owing to his publication of a pamphlet which gave offence to the Dutch Government, was resident in England, must have advised the executors of Dr. Seaman, a theologian of principles not widely different from his own, to adopt this method of selling his friend's library to the best advantage."

Seaman was the author of "A Vindication of the Judgement of the Reformed Churches, &c., concerning Ordination, &c.," 1647, and the chief class of books in his library was what we might expect to find, viz., theological works that he required in his vocation. Some few hooks (such as the Eliot Bible of 1661-63, nineteen shillings) fetched small prices as compared with their present value, but Mr. Pollard says that " nine-tenths of the books sold for more than they would at the present day."

The library was a large one, and the lots numbered between five and six thousand, and the amount realised by the sale was a little over L700, which may be roughly estimated at about £3500 of our present money.

The second auction sale (February 1676-67) was also carried out by Cooper, and consisted of the library of Thomas Kidner, Rector of Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, who died 31st August 1676. The library, like that of Dr. Seaman, consisted largely of theological works. It is evident from Cooper's preface to this catalogue that Seaman's sale had given considerable satisfaction, although the reference to an attempt to stifle this manner of sale shows that there were some opponents of the system. Cooper writes--

"Reader, the first attempt in this kind (by the Sale of Dr. Seaman's library) having given great content and satisfaction to the gentlemen who were buyers, and no great discouragement to the Sellers, hath encouraged the making this second trial, by the exposing (to auction or sale) the Library of Mr. Tho. Kidner, in hopes of receiving such encouragement from the Learned as may prevent the stifling of this manner of sale, the benefit (if rightly considered) being equally balanced between buyer and seller."

The third sale (February 1677—78) was of the library of Thomas Greenhill, a Nonconformist minister of some repute, who died in 1671, seven years before his books were sold. This sale is worthy of note, for the auctioneer was Zachariah Bourne, and not Cooper, as in the two former cases. It took place at the Turk's Head Coffee-House in Bread Street (in aedibus Ferdinandi Stable, Coffipolae, ad insigne Capitis Turcae). Bourne states in his preface that

"The attempts in this kind having given great content and satisfaction to the gentlemen who were the buyers, and no discouragement to the sellers, bath encouraged the making this trial by exposing (to auction or sale) the library of Mr. William Greenhill."

The fourth sale (25th May 1678) was occupied with the library of Thomas Manton (1620-77), one of the ministers appointed to wait upon Charles Il. at Breda. It took place at the house of the late possessor, in King Street, Covent Garden. More English literature was included in this library than in the former three. The auctioneer was Cooper, and his preface is worth quoting. It will be seen that the plan of allowing an inspection of the books before the sale had now been adopted

" Reader, we question not but that this manner of sale by way of auction is pretty well known to the Learned, nor can we doubt their encouragement for the advantage which they (as well as we) may in time reap thereby. Wherefore we are resolved (Deo volente) to make a fourth triall with the Library of Dr. Tho. Manton, which is not contemptible either for the Value, Condition, or Number, as will appear upon a sight thereof, which is free for any Gentleman that shall please to take that pains."

Cooper was not satisfied with the catalogue, which had been made by one considered by him to be incompetent, and of whom he writes thus,

"This Catalogue was taken by Phil Briggs, and not by W. Cooper, but afterwards in parts methodized by him. Wherefore he craves your excuse for the mistakes that have hapned ; and desires that the Saddle may be laid upon the right horse."

The sale of Benjamin Worsley's library (May 1678) is interesting, as being the first auction in which a fair representation of old English literature occurs, in addition to the ordinary theological works. Chaucer (1602) fetched L1, 3S. 6d., Ben Jonson's Works (1640),£1, 13S. 6d. ; Shakespeare, second folio, 16s., and third folio, 8s. 6d. The auctioneers were John Dunsmore and Richard Chiswell, and the sale took place over against the Hen and Chickens, in Paternoster Row. The sixth sale consisted of the libraries of John Godolphin and Owen Philips, and took place in November 1678, when a Caxton " Geffrey Chaucer's translation of Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae in English" fetched five shillings. We thus see that in two years there were only six sales. After this time they became more frequent, and in this same month of November 1678 an attempt was made at rigging a sale ; the booksellers were so well satisfied with the prices obtained, that they thought it would he a good stroke of business to lift some of their old stock under the cover of a good name. Moses Pitt adopted this expedient, and issued a catalogue of books described as including "the library of a worthy and learned person deceased, with a considerable number of the choice hooks of most sciences, some of which have been bought out of the best libraries abroad, particularly out of the late famous and learned Gilbert Voetius's."

This fraud was greatly resented by the book-buyers, and it was felt by the other auctioneers that a blow had been dealt to the newly-established system of sale ; so when in December of this same year the libraries of Lord Warwick and Gabriel Sangar came to be sold at the Harrow, over against the College of Physicians, in Warwick Lane, Nathaniel Ranew, the auctioneer, thought it expedient to make a statement in the preface to the catalogue, where he informed his patrons that this is "no collection made by any private hand (which hath been imputed to some auctions as a reflection), but the works were really belonging to their proprietors deceased mentioned on the title-page, and by the direction of their respective executors exposed to sale."

Moses Pitt made up another sale in February 1678-79, chiefly of books printed at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, which took place in Petty Canons Hall, near St. Paul's Churchyard. In June 1679 William Cooper sold the libraries of Stephen Watkins and Dr. Thomas Shirley (the catalogue of which contained an appendix of Richard Chiswell's books) at the Golden Lion, over against the Queen's Head Tavern, in Paternoster Row. John Dunsmore sold in November 1679 the library of Sir Edward Bysshe, Clarenceux King at Arms, at his house, near the sign of the Woolpack, in Ivy Lane. This library was more varied in its character than many of those that were sold before it, and it contained a considerable amount of French, Italian, and Spanish literature, including some early editions of Molière. This catalogue is deserving of particular attention, because the books are described as "curiously bound and richly gilt." Hitherto no mention had been made of bindings in the various catalogues. This attention to binding was to grow, and Thomas Hearne protested against it some years after. In his memoranda under date 15th February 1725-26 he wrote respecting the sale of John Bridges' library : " I hear they go very high, being fair books in good condition, and most of them finely bound. This afternoon I was told of a gentleman of All Souls' College (I suppose Dr. Clarke) that gave a commission of eight shillings for a Homer in two vols., a small 8vo, if not 12mo. But it went for six guineas. People are in love with good binding more than good reading."

The British Museum Library contains a valuable collection of early sale catalogues, and one of the volumes, containing the first eleven sales from Sea-man to Bysshe, is of considerable interest from having the following note in Richard Heber's handwriting-

"This volume, which formerly belonged to Narcissus Luttrell, and since to Mr. Gough, is remarkable for containing the eleven first Catalogues of Books ever sold by auction in England. What renders it still more curious, is that the prices of nearly all the articles are added in MS. When it came into my possession it had suffered so much from damp, and the leaves were so tender and rotten, that every time the volume was opened, it was liable to in-jury. This has been remedied by giving the whole a strong coat of size. At Willett's sale, Booth, the bookseller of Duke Street, Portland Place, bought a volume of old catalogues for £2, 3s. (see Merly Catalogue, 531), and charged the same in his own shop catalogue for 1815, £2I (6823). It contained merely the eight which stand first in the present collection, of which Greenhill's and Godolphin's were not priced at all ; and Voet's and Sangar's only partially. However, it enabled me to fill up a few omissions in the prices of my copy of Sangar's.—N.B. The prices of Willett's and the present copy did not always tally exactly."

Heber paid six shillings for this volume at Gough's sale in 1810, and Charles Lewis's labours in sizing and binding in 1824 cost '2, 15S.

In April 1680 was sold "the Library of the Right Hon. George, late Earl of Bristol, a great part of which were the curiosities collected by the learned Sir Kenelm Digby, together with the Library of another Learned person." It is impossible from the catalogue to tell which lots belonged to Sir KeneIm ; and there seems to be Iittle doubt that few of the books which he left in Paris when he came to London, and which were confiscated by the French Government on his death in 1665, were included in this catalogue. According to M. Léopold Delisle,1 Sir Kenelm's books eventually reached the French national library. The proceeds of the sale of 3878 lots was only L908, and this does not look as if there were many of Digby's books, nobly bound by Le Gascon, in this sale.

In 1681 Edward Millington's name came into notice as the seller, in May of that year, of the libraries of Lawson, Fawkes, Stockden, and Brooks.

Richard Chiswell sold in 1682 the Bibliotheca Smithiana, or library of Richard Smith, Secondary of the Poultry Compter, who is better known to us as the author of the useful "Obituary" published by the Camden Society in 1849. This was probably the finest library brought to the hammer up to this date. Oldys wrote of the possessor, that "for many years together [he] suffered nothing to escape him that was rare and remarkable" ; and he added, that his "extraordinary library makes perhaps the richest catalogue of any private library we have to show in print, making above four hundred pages in a very broad-leaved and close-printed quarto." Richard Chiswell sold the library in May "at the auction house known by the name of the Swan, in Great St. Bartholomew's Close."

The auctioneer made the following remarks in his Address to the Reader--

" Though it be needless to recommend what to all intelligent persons sufficiently commends itself, yet perhaps it may not be unacceptable to the ingenious to have some short account concerning this so much celebrated, so often desired, so long expected library, now exposed to sale. The gentleman that collected it was a person infinitely curious and inquisitive after books; and who suffered nothing considerable to escape him that fell within the compass of his learning, for he had not the vanity of desiring to be master of more than he knew how to use. He lived to a very great age, and spent a good part of it almost entirely in the search of books. Being as constantly known every day to walk his rounds through the shops as he sat down to meals, where his great skill and experience enabled him to make choice of what was not obvious to every vulgar eye. He lived in times which ministered peculiar opportunities of meeting with books that are not every day brought into publick light ; and few eminent libraries were bought where he had not the liberty to pick and choose. And while others were forming arms, and new-modelling kingdoms, his great ambition was to become master of a good book. Hence arose, as that vast number of his books, so the choiceness and rarity of the greatest part of them; and that of all kinds, and in all sorts of learning. . . . Nor was the owner of them a meer idle possessor of so great a treasure ; for as he generally collated his books upon the buying them (upon which account the buyer may rest pretty secure of their being perfect) so he did not barely turn over the leaves, but observed the defects of impression, and the ill acts used by many; compared the differences of editions ; concerning which and the like cases, he has entered memorable and very useful remarks upon very many of the books under his own hand : observations wherein, certainly never man was more diligent and industrious. Thus much was thought fit to be communicated to public notice, by a gentleman who was intimately acquainted both with Mr. Smith and his books."

Dibdin condemns the compiler of the catalogue severely, and adds,

"A number of the most curious, rare, and intrinsically valuable books the very insertion of which in a book-seller's catalogue would probably now make a hundred bibliomaniacs start from their homes by starlight, in order to come in for the first picking a number of volumes of this description are huddled together in one lot, and all these classed under the provoking running title of ' Bundles of Books," Bundles of stitcht Books.' "

Smith was one of the earliest collectors of Caxtons, and eleven books produced by our first printer sold for £3, 4S. 2d. at his sale. But one of the greatest points of interest connected with Smith's library is that it included the hooks of Humphrey Dyson, collected at a much earlier date. Hearne notes in his " Collections "

"That Mr. Rich. Smith's rare and curious collection of books was began first by Mr. Humphrey Dyson, a publick notary, living in the Poultry. They came to Mr Smith by marriage. This is the same Humphrey Dyson that assisted Howes in his continuation of Stow's 'Survey of London,' ed. folio."

Under date 4th September 1715 Hearne says,

" Mr. Richard Smith's Catalogue that is printed contains a very noble and very extraordinary collection of books. It was begun first in the time of King Hen. VIII., and comcing to Mr. Smith, he was so very diligent and exact in continueing and improving, that hardly anything curious escaped him. He had made the best collection that possibly he could of Erasmus's works."'

In another place Hearne describes Dyson as,

" A person of a very strange, prying, and inquisitive genius in the matter of books, as may appear from many libraries ; there being books chiefly in old English, almost in every library, that have belonged to him, with his name upon them."

The following interesting entry from Smith's catalogue corroborates Hearne's statement as to Smith's acquisition of Dyson's books

Six several catalogues of all such books, touching the state ecclesiastical as temporal of the realm of England, which were published upon several occasions, in the reigns of K. Henry the VIIth and VIIIth, Philip and Mary, Q. Elizabeth, K. James and Charles I., collected by Mr. H. Dyson : out of whose library was gathered by Mr. Smith a great part of the rarities of this catalogue."

This lot only fetched seven shillings and six-pence.

The number of sales seem now to have increased annually, but it was some years before a library that could rank with Richard Smith's was sold. In April 1683 the books of Brian Walton, Bishop of Chester, were sold (twenty-two years after his death) " by Samuel Carr, at his house of the King's Head in St. Paul's Churchyard." About this time auction sales took place in various parts of the country, and Edward Millington was largely employed as a peripatetic auctioneer. In September 1684 he sold books at Stourbridge Fair (Bibliotheca Sturbitchiana). In 1686 two sales occurred at Trumpington (Obadiah Sedgwick in March, and William Whitwood in May) and two at Cambridge (Dr. Edmond Castell in June, and Rev. J. Chamberlaine, of St. John's College, at Stourbridge Fair, in September). When we forget the change that has taken place in the value of money, and express our surprise that rare books should only realise a few shillings, we should note that the cost of the hire of thirteen carts for conveying Dr. Castell's books from Emmanuel College to the sign of the Eagle and Child, where they were sold, was only three shillings.1 In 1685 and 1686 occurred the famous sales of the stock of Richard Davis, the Oxford book-seller, which was satirised in the Audio Davisiana, noticed in an earlier chapter.

In 1682 William Cooper published a list of book-sales up to that date, and again a fuller list in 1687, which contained a note of seventy-four sales in the ten years 1676-86. The following note is printed on the back of page 33 of Catalogus Librorum Biblio-Mecca viri cujusdam Literati, 14th February 1686–87.

"To gratifie those Gentlemen whose curiosities may lead them to make perfect their Collection, I have caused to he printed the names of those persons whose libraries have been sold by auction, and the series of the time when" [1676-1686].

This list is reprinted by Hartshorne in his " Book Rarities of the University of Cambridge," 1829 (pp. 454-57), and it forms the text for two excellent articles by Mr. A. W. Pollard in Bibliographica.

In 1687 Millington sold the valuable library of Dr. Thomas Jacomb, a Nonconformist minister (Bibliotheca Jacombiana), which realised £1300 ; and in February of the following year the library of a counsellor of the Parliaments of Montpelier, which had been brought from France to be sold in England (Bibliotheca Mascoviana).

T. Bentley and B. Walford sold in November 1687 an interesting library of an anonymous but distinguished defunct Bibliotheca Illustrissima, which is described as follows in the Address to the Reader

" If the catalogue here presented were only of common books and such as were easie to be had, it would not have been very necessary to have prefaced anything to the reader ; but since it appears in the world with circumstances which no auction in England (perhaps) ever had before, nor is it probable that the like should frequently happen again, it would seem an oversight if we should neglect to advertise the reader of them. The first is, that it comprises the main part of the library of that famous secretary, William Cecil, Lord Burleigh : which considered, must put it out of doubt that these books are excellent in their several kinds and well chosen. The second is, that it contains a greater number of rare manuscripts than ever yet were offered together in this way, many of which are rendered the more valuable by being remarked upon by the hand of the said great man."

A considerable number of sales took place between this date and the end of the century, but few were of any particular mark until the fine library of Dr. Francis Bernard came to the hammer in 1698.

Millington continued his travels in the country, and sold, among others, the library of Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver at Norwich in 1689, and some modern English books at Abingdon in 1692 ; and John Howell sold the Rev. George Ashwell's library at Oxford in 1696.

Dr. Francis Bernard, physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, was also physician to James II. He was a good judge of books, and collected a very fine library, which was sold by auction in October 1698 at his late dwelling in Little Britain. Dibdin says he was "a stoic in bibliography. Neither beautiful binding nor amplitude of margin ever delighted his eye or rejoiced his heart ; for he was a stiff and straightforward reader, and learned in literary history beyond all his contemporaries. His collection was copious and excellent."

The account given of the doctor in the Address to the Reader prefixed to the catalogue is of considerable interest.

"The character of the person whose collection this was is so well known, that there is no occasion to say much of him, nor, to any man of judgment that inspects the Catalogue, of the collection itself. Something, however, it becomes us to say of both; and this, I think, may with truth and modesty enough be said, that as few men knew books, and that part of learning which is called Historia Literaria, better than himself; so there never appeared in England so choice and valuable a Catalogue to he thus disposed of as this before us. Certain it is, this library contains not a few which never appeared in any auction here before, nor indeed, as I have heard him say, for aught he knew and he knew as well as any man living in any printed Catalogue in the world. It was very seldom that he bought any book without some very particular reason. For if any man died, he certainly knew what we call the secret history of learning so well, that if there were but one single passage in an author for which only it was to be valued, it never escaped him. Being a person who collected his books, and not for ostentation or ornament, he seemed no more solicitous about their dress than his own ; and therefore you'll find that a gilt back or a large margin was very seldom any inducement to him to buy. 'Twas sufficient to him that he had the book. . . . He himself was not a mere nomenclator, and versed only in title-pages, but had made that just and laudable use of his books which would become all those that set up for collectors.. . . Give me leave to say this of him upon my own knowledge, that he never grudged his money in procuring, nor his time or labour in perusing any book which he thought could be any ways instructive to him ; and having the felicity of a memory always faithful, always officious, which never forsook him, though attacked by frequent and severe sickness, and by the worst of all diseases, old age, his desire for knowledge attended him to the last, and he pursued his studies with equal vigour and application to the very extremity of his life."

He bad thirteen Caxtons, which sold altogether for less than two guineas, less than these books fetched at Richard Smith's sale. A curious volume of Tracts, consisting of "The Bellman's Night Walks" (1632), "The Bellman of London" (1608), "Life of Ned Browne," "Cut Purse," &c., sold for 2S. 8d.; Stubbe's "Anatomie of Abuses" (1585), for 8d.; and Tusser's " Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry" (1590) for 4d. In spite of these low prices, the total amount of the sale was £1600, the expenses of the sale 4s. in the pound = £320 being deducted.

The catalogue was charged 2s. 6d.

The last sale in the seventeenth century to be recorded is that of John Lloyd, Bishop of St. Davids, sold in 1699 by John Bullord at Tom's Coffee-House.

When auctions were first started conditions of sale were formulated, and with the exception of a little elaboration, they remain pretty much what they were at first; but there were certain peculiarities which are worthy of mention.

The catalogues were not at first divided into clay's sales, but as many lots as possible were sold in the time fixed for the sale. The hours were usually from nine to twelve, and from two to six.

Sometimes the sales only took place in the evening. In 1681 we learn that an average sale of 544 lots in a day was considered satisfactory. In the Conditions of Sale printed in the Catalogue of Seaman's library we read

"That the Auction will begin the 31st of October at the Deceased Drs. house in Warwick Court in Warwick Lane punctually at nine Of the Clock in the morning and two in the afternoon, and this to continue daily until all the books be sold."

The early hour was found a disadvantage, and hooks often sold for low prices at the beginning of sales, so that Cooper was forced to make a rule that the sale should not be commenced unless there were twenty present. At this time biddings of a penny were common.

Two great evils came to light on the first institution of auctions ; one was due to the buyers, and the other to the auctioneers. It was found that in cases where the buyer thought he had given more for a book than was wise, he often forgot to pay and fetch away the books. Millington refers specially to this in 1681

" I question not but the well disposed, and the Learned will give us such incouragement in the Sale by Bidding in some measure to the value of the Books so exposed, as may further incourage and keep on foot such a commendable and serviceable a way of sale (as this of Auction is) to the great purposes of promoting Learning and Know-ledge. Which, when I consider, I cannot but wonder that so many persons have appeared at our auctions, and buy with a great freedom to the injury of others (that are truly conscientious to pay for, and fetch away the Books so bought) ; yet in most auctions have hitherto neglected to fetch away and pay for their own. To the end therefore that they may know, we will not be damaged after so great expcnces, as inevitably attends the management of an auction; we do intend to prosecute them according to the law if forthwith they do not send for their books, or give us some reasonable satisfaction. To prevent any abuses for the future that may happen to other gentlemen who suffer by this unhandsome practice (of having Books bought out of their hands by persons that never will, or perhaps never designed to fetch them away), we shall, at a convenient time, for the further satisfaction of gentlemen, give an account of their names, and desire their absence if any of them happen to be present."

The other evil was the attempt of the booksellers to get rid of some of their old stock by introducing it into the sales of collectors' libraries. This trick has already been alluded to.

The frequenters of auctions seem to have been very jealous of being bid against by any one interested in the sale. This jealousy found voice in the complaints of Wanley and others at Bridges' sale in 1726.

The lots were not numbered throughout in the catalogues, but the octavos, quartos, and folios were each numbered separately, the number of each section running on from the previous day's sale. This is very confusing, as when you look at the end for the purpose of finding the total number of the lots, you only find the number of folios in the sale. Millington found that it was not advisable to hid for books, in case it might be supposed that he was running them up in price, and Mr. Pollard believes that he adopted a plan of getting men to bid for him.

In corroboration of this view Mr. Pollard refers to a copy of the catalogue of the libraries of Button, Owen, and Hoel, 7th November 1681, in the British Museum which belonged to Millington. It has two receipts by persons whose names are among the bidders for money received from Millington for various books. " At first sight this seems a reversal of what we should expect, but after the first few sales the auctioneers had renounced the right of making bids themselves, lest they should be accused of running up prices, and Millington had obviously employed these friends to bid for him."'

Another evil connected with auctions comes from knocks out, which are thoroughly dishonest, and in fact, criminal, being, as they are, a form of conspiracy, but the agreements of two persons not to bid against one another are not necessarily to be condemned. Mr. Henry Stevens was very urgent against any kind of agreement, and in his reminiscences amusingly describes his frustration of a knock-out ; and it has been said that when the Duke of Roxburghe and Lord Spencer made an agreement, they were parties to a knock-out; but this view is founded on a fallacy, viz., that whatever price a book fetches at public auction is the proper price. We know, however, that this is not correct ; for instance, the Valdarfer Boccaccio fetched its huge price at the Roxburghe sale because two great book-buyers with long purses bid against one another. When one of these buyers died and the book was again in the market, seven years after the first sale, the survivor obtained the book at a smaller price. Hence who is to say whether 226o or 9I8 is the actual value of the book !

Home | More Articles | Email: