Stamp of approval: Books from assay office’s remarkable collection come to auction25 March 2020 A fascinating collection of books from The Birmingham Assay Office Library will be offered at auction tomorrow.
It includes works on metallurgy and design, a 1763 Holy Bible, three works by Longitude Prize-winner John Harrison and a 1896 Kelmscott Press production of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.
The collection originally formed part of the personal library of Matthew Boulton, the Birmingham silversmith who founded the assay office back in 1773. It will now be offered at Forum Auctions sale on March 26.
The assay office, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, has retained a core collection of books and intends to invest the proceeds of this Forum auction back into its business.
Here we feature five highlights of the lots on offer.
1. Kelmscott Chaucer
Among the stand-out lots in Forum Auctions sale is a copy of the 1896 Kelmscott Press production of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer now newly imprinted.
One of 425 copies, it has its original holland-backed boards and retails the 87 wood-engraved illustrations designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and engraved by W.H.Hooper.
This work is considered one of the greatest of all private press books and the apotheosis of the artistic collaboration between William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. This copy is estimated at £20,000-30,000 at the Forum sale.
View the catalogue entry for this Kelmscott Chaucer on thesaleroom.com
2. Metalwork classic
Among the works of mining and metallurgical interest is Georgius Agricola’s De re metallica – a 16th century book relating to the practice of mining, refining, and smelting metals. The author was Georg Bauer (his pen name was Georgius Agricola) and it was first published posthumously in 1556 due to the preparation of the woodcuts for the text being delayed.
One of the first technological books of modern times, this lot contains a collation of woodcuts from different printings.
It is estimated at £3000-4000 at the Forum sale.
View the catalogue entry for this copy of De re metallica on thesaleroom.com
3. Benjamin Franklin first edition
This first edition of the only collected edition of Benjamin Franklin's works published in his lifetime is offered at the Forum sale.
Political, miscellaneous, and philosophical pieces was prepared by Benjamin Vaughan, a close friend of Franklin's, with the latter's knowledge and assistance, and it was printed in 1779.
This copy with three engraved plates (one folding) is estimated at £2000-3000 at the Forum sale.
View the catalogue entry for this Benjamin Franklin first edition on thesaleroom.com
4. Rococo silver designs
It’s perhaps not surprising that a collection formed by a Birmingham silversmith and belonging to an assay office should include some works relating to silver.
One of them in the forum sale is a first edition of Elements d'Orfevrerie by Parisian silversmith Pierre Germain, an important work of Rococo designs for tableware and churches from 1748.
It is estimated at £2000-3000.
View the catalogue entry for this Pierre Germain book on thesaleroom.com.
5. Harrison’s horology
The sale includes three works by Longitude Prize-winner John Harrison – the 18th century clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer, thus solving the problem of calculating longitude while at sea.
One of them is the first French edition of Principes de la Montre de Mr. Harrison, avec les Planches relatives which was published in Avignon & Paris in 1767.
It is estimated at £3000-4000.
View the catalogue entry for this horological work on thesaleroom.com.