Wednesday, June 13th, 2012...9:30 am

The Grand Æra of Bibliomania: the Roxburghe Sale of 1812

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William Beckford. A dialogue in the shades; Rare doings at Roxburghe Hall, 1819. *EC8 B3884 819db2012 is the 200th anniversary of the event that could be said to mark the start of the modern era of book collecting: the sale of the library of John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe. The sale of this extensive and masterfully assembled collection attracted the interest of every major book collector in Britain, its praises having lately been sung in Thomas Dibdin’s Bibliomania, or Book-Madness (1809).

George and William Nicol. A catalogue of the library of the late John, Duke of Roxburghe, 1812. *65JC-18

Almost 10% of the total selling price of the library was accounted for by the fierce bidding over the Valdarfer Boccaccio (1471), one of only two known copies. It sold (lot 6292) for £2260, a staggering price for a single book, and one not to be exceeded at auction for another 50 years. The book today resides in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. Houghton holds several books from the sale, including another Boccaccio, albeit one far more modestly priced (lot 6308).

George and William Nicol. A catalogue of the library of the late John, Duke of Roxburghe, 1812. *65JC-18

Giovanni Boccaccio. Amorous Fiammetta, 1587. STC 3179

To celebrate the sale of the Valdarfer Boccaccio, Dibdin held a dinner party on June 16, 1812 for a group of collectors that would become known as the Roxburghe Club. The club, now the oldest bibliophilic society in the world, likewise celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.

Houghton’s copy of the Roxburghe sale catalog, a book from the library, and the first facsimile edition produced by a Roxburghe Club member are on display in Houghton’s ground floor Chaucer Case through the end of August.

[This post was contributed by John Overholt, Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson and Early Modern Books & Manuscripts.]

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