Pages of History

Published 10th November 2023

By Lissy Tsigarides View profile

Roger Collicott - Head of the Antiquarian Books & Manuscripts Department

Pages of History: Antiquarian Books at Auction

Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood are one of the few distinguished auction houses in the West Country to have a bespoke Antiquarian Book Department. Hosting specialist auctions of Books, Maps and Prints twice a year, they have built up an impressive reputation worldwide and achieved some incredible world record prices over the last twenty years.

Roger Collicott, a valued member of the Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood team for over two decades, played an instrumental role in nurturing and expanding the Antiquarian Book Department. His journey began with a comprehensive six-year apprenticeship at WS Cowells, a renowned Ipswich-based printers and lithographers, where he honed his skills in traditional printing techniques. Through this, Roger developed an innate understanding of what he refers to as 'the guts of a book'—grasping its construction, materials, binding, type, and printing process, enabling him to discern the nature of a book at a glance. Over the years, he has also owned five antiquarian bookshops across Devon and Cornwall.

The department has seen numerous exceptional highlights, including a book relating to the famous British Explorer Captain Cook – an album consigned from Plymouth containing real specimens of material and cloth collected from his voyages when searching for Australia (achieving £130,000 in the saleroom). Other remarkable finds comprised a previously unknown map within a book of Elizabethan Voyages, realising an astonishing £365,000, and the 1851 Great Exhibition catalogue, which included old and rare photographs, fetching £30,000 in the saleroom. Several single-owner collections, ranging from Cornish libraries to costume and fashion books, optical toys, pre-cinema artifacts, and murder broadsides, have also been successfully auctioned by the department over the years.

There is a truly captivating piece scheduled for their next Antiquarian Book Auction on December 5th—an Indian Album with a story as vibrant as the images it holds. Crafted meticulously and adorned with over 150 original watercolours and a trove of early photographs, this album unveils the journey of a soldier named Mark Batt Tanner through the mystic lands of India and Egypt from 1852 to 1885. Titled ‘The Ramblings and Adventures of an Indian Officer’, it reads like a vivid tapestry of adventures penned in hues and captured in monochrome. It is more than just an album; it's a symphony of history, a canvas where humour, lush jungles and regal palaces intermingle harmoniously and breathe life into the past.

These ancient photographs dating back to 1850 are a rare find indeed, and capture a slice of history from the inception of cameras—a period where photography itself was in its infancy. Among these, a few dated as early as 1851 offer a glimpse of Cairo and the monumental structures that endure the sands of time.

Their Antiquarian Book & Manuscript Auctions are conducted online, offering several bidding platforms for potential buyers. With a wealth of expertise, an extensive network of buyers, and strong online presence, the book department at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood welcomes consignments of various scales, from single books to substantial collections. Prospective sellers or individuals seeking appraisals for printed materials—whether books, manuscripts, prints, maps, photographs, or ephemera—are encouraged to contact Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood, for swift and expert guidance.

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