The renowned chess library of J. W. Rimington Wilson was sold by Sotheby and Co., London, in February 1928, more than fifty years after his death, having been maintained and enlarged by his son R. H. Rimington Wilson during this period. The London book-dealer Bernard Quaritch acquired a large proportion of the lots on offer and subsequently issued what is probably the most important catalogue of chess works ever offered by a bookseller.
The 96-page Catalogue has 1,657 entries with numerous manuscripts and other unique items, along with many of the rarest chess books. The great majority of these items were on sale at prices that, today, seem just buttons; almost 1,200 items were priced at under £1, including many that are now completely unobtainable.
I am not going to comment now on the endless treasures in this catalogue but I set out below the 20 most expensive chess books listed. This does not include manuscripts, runs of periodicals or non-chess items. The list is in ascending order and shows the prices in pounds, shillings and pence. Most of the prices are in guineas; 1 guinea = 1 pound and 1 shilling; the shilling being the equivalent of today's buyer's premium.
The most remarkable feature of this list is the extraordinary price of Rowbothum's work. The figure of £180 seems almost to be an error when compared to the other prices. Was a Rowbothum worth more than ten times the cost of a Damiano, Ruy Lopez or Gianutio in the 1920s?
Although Quaritch gave a detailed entry for this book there is no mention of its rarity or exceptional value.
The price was seemingly correct; two Rowbothums were sold at Sotheby's sale of the Rimington Wilson library, for £56 and £31. Quaritch no doubt purchased one of these and added a hefty mark-up. Another buyer at the Sotheby sale was the London bookseller Maggs Bros. and they probably purchased the other Rowbothum. The following appeared in their 428 page catalogue no. 511 issued in 1928:
John Keeble furnished a number of reports on the Sotheby sale to the Falkirk Herald and these were also published in The Chess Amateur. I will reproduce these in the next article.
The Quaritch Catalogue, which, surprisingly, is not recorded in Betts' Bibliography, has become a very collectable and expensive item itself, whereas it was originally handed out for free as this advert in The Chess Amateur for October 1929 shows:
Finally, there is one, even more expensive, book in the Quaritch Catalogue but this is not a chess work:
The eye-watering price puts the Rowbothum well and truly in the shade.
© Michael Clapham 2020