A first edition of The Origin of Species is the star attraction in an incredible auction of rare books

Bonhams are auctioning an incredible collection of first editions, manuscripts, letters and scientific papers.

They currently belong to the library of the late Hugh Selbourne, a doctor who practised in Manchester, UK, who had his own diaries A Doctor’s Life: The Diaries of Hugh Selbourne M.D., 1960–63, edited and published by his son David in 1989.

The collection ranges from incredibly rare and important, such as a first edition of The Origin of Species (up to $140,000), to editions either gifted or autographed by some of literature’s biggest names, such as Virginia Woolf, AA Milne and Kenneth Grahame, some of which can be acquired for less than $1000.

The auction starts on March 25 in Knightsbridge, London, at 11am GMT. Or you can bid online at Bonhams here.

There’s 329 lots, but we’ve picked out some of the star attractions.

Charles Darwin (Lot 266)

Title: The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, John Murray, 1859

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $98,000 – 140,000
The big one. Bonhams says: Originally owned by Joseph Hooker, one of Darwin’s closest friends. Hooker is well known to have been the first person in the world to hear of Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution, Darwin writing to him, on 11 January 1844, “I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.”

Christian Huygens (Lot 294)

Title: The Celestial World Discover’d: or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets, Timothy Childe, 1698

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $3,000 – $4,900

Bonhams says: First edition in English of one of the earliest discussions of extraterrestrial life. Huygens argued that “the Earth holds no privileged position among the other planets. It would therefore be unreasonable to suppose that life should be restricted to the Earth alone…. Huygens came to the conclusion that, in all probability, the plant and animal worlds of other planets are very like those of the earth” (DSB).

John Ruskin (Lot 102)

Assorted letters from the celebrated English art critic of the Victorian era, known for advocating and defending the works of the great English landscape artist Joseph Turner.

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $79,000 – $120,000
Bonhams says: Series of over forty autograph letters signed, to Jane, Lady Simon, and her husband Sir John Simon; Ruskin writes on Turner, his bouts of madness, the difficulties he has in loving others, his mission in life, the death of his old nurse and of his mother, relations with the mother of Rose La Touche, and the wonder of a woman’s ability to sew on buttons, Herne Hill, Denmark Hill, Matlock, Inverness, Bridge of Allan, Glasgow, Corpus Christi College, and elsewhere, 1857-1871 where dated.

John Ruskin

Individual letters

Picture: Bonhams

There’s also several lots of individual letters by Ruskin including his thoughts on Turner ranging from $2000-$6000 apiece.

Robert Boyle (Lot 236)

Title: The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes, touching the Spagyrist’s Principles commonly call’d Hypostatical, as they are wont to be Propos’d and Defended by the Generality of Alchymists, FIRST EDITION, J. Cadwell, for J. Crooke, 1661

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $98,000 – $140,000

Bonhams says: By far and away the most valuable of many lots from Robert Boyle. Lauded as “…one of the most significant milestones on the way to the chemical revolution of Lavoisier in the eighteenth century.”

There’s also plenty of other Boyle works for sale touching colour, cold, natural pihilosophy and vulgar spagirists and a Free Discourse against Customary Swearing and a Dissuasive from Cursing.

Percy Bysse Shelley (Lot 114)

Title: St. Irvyne; or, the Rosicrucian: A Romance. By a Gentleman of the University of Oxford, FIRST EDITION, J.J. Stockdale, 1811 [but December 1810]

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $2,000 – $3,900

Bonhams says: Scarce first edition of Shelley’s second gothic romance, actually written before he went to Oxford.

William Wordsworth (Lot 116)

Title: Ecclesiastical Sketches, FIRST EDITION, AUTHOR’S PRESENTATION COPY, Longman, Hurst, 1822

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $1,200 – $1,600

Bonhams says: Inscribed “from the Author” by a publisher’s clerk on the front free endpaper. First owned by William Lowther, first earl of Lonsdale (1757–1844), upon whose estate Wordsworth was born and his father John worked as law agent and steward.

A.A. Milne (Lot 133)

Title: Toad of Toad Hall. A Play from Kenneth Grahame’s Book “The Wind in the Willows”, Methuen, 1929

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $1,400 – $1,800

Bonhams says: Number 28 of 200 copies signed by Milne and Grahame.

Book of Hours, Illuminated Manuscript (Lot 23)

Author: Flanders, probably Bruges, mid fifteenth century

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $49,000 – $69,000
Bonhams says: An early Brugean provenance is denoted by the signed blindtooled binding by Ludovicus Bloc (d. 1519).

H.G. Wells (Lot 137)

Title: The Time Machine. An Invention, FIRST EDITION, William Heinemann, 1895

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $2,000 – $3,000

Bonhams says: FINE COPY OF THE AUTHOR’S FIRST NOVEL, and “the earliest known work of science fiction to be based on the idea of time travel” (Wells Society).

Virginia Woolf (Lot 140)

Title: Orlando, first American edition, New York, Crosby Gaige, 1928

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $980 – $1,600

Bonhams says: Number 180 of 861 copies signed by the author, printed on “pure rag paper”.

Thomas Chippendale (Lot 148)

Title: The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director. Being a Large Collection of the Most Elegant and Useful Designs of Household Furniture, in the Most Fashionable Taste, for the Author, 1762

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $3,900 – $5,900

Bonhams says: THIRD AND BEST EDITION of perhaps the most important and influential collection of furniture designs to be produced in eighteenth century England. First published in 1754, with 161 plates, Chippendale’s work was an immediate success, prompting a second edition to be issued in 1755, and this enlarged edition, revised by Chippendale himself with the addition of 39 plates.

William Bligh (Lot 166)

Title: A Voyage to the South Sea, Undertaken by Command of His Majesty, for the Purpose of Conveying the Bread-fruit Tree to the West Indies, in His Majesty’s Ship the Bounty, Commanded by Lieutenant William Bligh. Including an Account of the Mutiny on Board the Said Ship, and the Subsequent Voyage of Part of the Crew, in the Ship’s Boat, from Tofoa… to Timor, FIRST EDITION, George Nicol, 1792

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $9,800 – $14,000

Bonhams says: A good copy, with wide margins, of Captain Bligh’s own official account of one of the most celebrated of voyages, including the mutiny and the remarkable 3500 mile journey across the Pacific in Bounty’s launch to safety in Timor, with the loss of just one man.

David Livingstone (Lot 191)

Title: Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa; including a Sketch of Sixteen Years’ Residence in the Interior of Africa, FIRST EDITION, second issue, AUTHOR’S PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed “To John Edward Gray Esq. with kind salutations from his obliged friend David Livingstone, London, 26th oct. 1857” on fly-leaf, John Murray, 1857

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $7,900 – $12,000

Bonhams says: FINE PRESENTATION COPY TO THE NATURALIST JOHN EDWARD GRAY, Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum, of “perhaps the most famous of all African exploration books” (Czech).

John Gould (Lot 218)

Title: A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains, FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, [no publisher], [1831]-1832

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $16,000 – $24,000

Bonhams says: FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE of Gould’s first great folio work.

Isaac Newton (Lot 304)

Title: Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light, FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford, Printers to the Royal Society, 1704

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $30,000 – $39,000

Bonhams says: Babson, quoting Prof. E.W. Brown of Yale University, claims “Newton’s Optics did for light what his Principia had done for gravitation, namely, placed it on a scientific basis.”

Florence Nightingale (Lot 312)

Title: Notes on Hospitals… third edition, enlarged and for the most part re-written, Longman, Green, 1863

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $3,900 – $5,900

Bonhams says: AUTHOR’S PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed “Mr. Humbert offered by Florence Nightingale Dec 16/63” on title.

William Shakespeare and John Fletcher (Lot 85)

Title: The Two Noble Kinsmen Presented at the Blackfriars by the Kings Majesties Servants, with Great Applause: Written by the memorable worthies of their time Mr. John Fletcher, and Mr. William Shakspeare, FIRST EDITION, Thomas Cotes, for John Waterson, 1634

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $30,000 – $39,000

Bonhams says: FIRST EDITION, and the only quarto edition, with the attribution on the title to Shakespeare and Fletcher. In 1940 Pforzheimer noted that “scholarship is agreed, that there are two hands in this play and that one is Fletcher’s” but that opinion on Shakespeare’s involvement was divided. Since then scholars are generally agreed that the work was collaborative with Shakespeare responsible for Act 1, Act 2 scene 1, and Act 5.

Thomas Hobbes (Lot 66)

Title: Leviathan, or, the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill, FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, Andrew Crooke, 1651

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $4,900 – $6,900

Bonhams says: First edition of one of the most important seventeenth century works of political philosophy, where Hobbes describes the state “as a great artificial monster made up of individual men” in which “The individual (except to save his own life) should always submit to the State, because any government is better than the anarchy of the natural state.”

Charles Dickens (Lot 95)

Title: Autograph letter signed (“Charles Dickens”), to Mrs Overs, promising to do what he can to help: Palazzo Peschiere, Genoa, 10 April 1845

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $1,600 – $2,000

Bonhams says: Mrs Overs was the widow of John Overs, a carpenter, who had published a collection of stories under the title Evenings by a Working Man, with a preface by Dickens.

Charlotte Brontë (Lot 91)

Title: Shirley. A Tale. By Currer Bell, 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, Smith, Elder, 1849

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $1,200 – $1,600

Bonhams says: Brontë’s second published novel after Jane Eyre (originally published under Brontë’s pseudonym Currer Bell). The novel’s popularity led to Shirley’s becoming a woman’s name. (It was a man’s name previously.) Charlotte’s sister Emily was one of three of her siblings which died while she was writing Shirley.

Anne Brontë (Lot 90)

Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. By Acton Bell, 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, T.C. Newby, 1848

Picture: Bonhams

Expected price range: $12,000 – $16,000

Bonhams says: First edition of Anne Brontë’s second novel and her only separately published work, now seen as an innovative and radical expression of feminist values, “challenging the then current ideal of woman as an ‘angel’ in the house, submissive to her lot as her husband’s chattel” (Margaret Smith, ODNB).

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