Thursday 4 April 2019

Forum Auctions

Forum Auctions of London held a sale of Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper on 28th March which included 24 choice chess lots from the collection of Michael Mark. Keen competition for many of the lots resulted in 14 items realising more than the top estimate.

The chess books were sold in chronological order and first up were the earliest Spanish and Italian editions of Ruy Lopez, both previously in the library of Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa:

Libro de la Invencion Liberal Y Arte del Juego del Axedrez, published in Alcala in 1561, sold for £7,000, while the Italian translation by Giovanni Tarsia; Il Giuoco De Gli Scacchi, published in Venice possibly posthumously in 1584, made £2,400.

Next lot was the star of the show, a very rare manuscript of Greco's games, written in Italian but produced in France, possibly Paris in 1624 or 1625.

The attractive hand decorated title page featured on the back cover of the auction catalogue and, despite a few blemishes, this small volume, measuring just 12.6cm x 8.4cm, attained £42,000 in the sale room. 

The first two English editions of Greco were among the lots, with The Royall Game of Chesse-Play, London 1656, selling for £2,200, while Chess Made Easy, London 1750, with some defects, made £550.

Several items came with impeccable provenances, including Salvio's Il Puttino, Altramente detto, Il Cavaliero Errante, Naples 1634, together with the 1634 reprint of his Trattato dell' Inventione et Arte Liberate del Giuco di Scacchi, previously owned  by Sir Frederic Madden and J. W. Rimington Wilson. This sold for £2,400.

Severino's La Filosofa..., Naples 1690, came from the library of former French chess champion André Muffang (£1,600), and Philidor's Chess Analysed, London 1750 (£1,500) and Robert Lambe's The History of Chess, London 1750, (£600) both came from J. W. Rimington Wilson's library with his usual inscriptions.

A curious composite work made up of the first volume of Chess by Twiss, London 1787, the chess part of his scarce Miscellanies, London 1805, and Nouvel Essai sur le Jeu des  Échecs, The Hague 1789, was probably good value at £380, as was Hyde's De Ludis Orientilabus, including Mandragorias seu Historia Shahiludii which deals with the history of chess, Oxford 1694, realising £1,100.

The Buke of ye Chess, of which only 40 copies were printed in Auchinleck, Scotland in 1818, sold for £1,100.

A very interesting letter from Alexander Alekhine to Brian Harley, dated October 1928, confirming his willingness to play a rematch with Capablanca sold for £2,800. This lot also included five further contemporary copies of correspondence between Alekhine and Capablanca, Capablanca and Alekhine, Alekhine and Bogoljubow and Alekhine and Norbert Lederer, all regarding challenges to Alekhine's world championship.

Marcel Duchamp's chess book L'Opposition et les Cases Conjuguées sont Reconcilées, written with Vitaly Halberstadt, Paris 1932, is always in demand and this example of the limited edition of 1,000 copies sold for £850, probably more for the Duchamp connection than the chess content.  The text is in French, German and English but this work is not recorded in Betts' Bibliography.

All of the aforementioned hammer prices do not include the buyer's premium of 25%. Many thanks to Rupert Powell of Forum Auctions for permission to include extracts and illustrations from the catalogue.

A puzzling matter is how these auction houses manage to produce beautifully illustrated catalogues on high quality paper at modest prices while publishers of chess books such as McFarland claim that the cost of including quality colour illustrations in their books is prohibitive. 

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