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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

1066 and all that

To help mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, Sotheran has donated a copy of Daniel Maclise's wonderful 1866 work The Story of the Norman Conquest to Battle Museum in East Sussex where it all happened. To commemorate the 800th anniversary of the battle Maclise reworked the Bayeux Tapestry as a frieze in a neo-Classical style. He clearly favoured the Normans, as they are seen praying righteously on the eve of the battle while the Saxons are drinking mead and larking about. It's very difficult to defend a hill with a hangover. Still, they played their part in the birth of modern Britain, and the nation's fondness for the underdog may well have started with an arrow that pierced Harold's eye and flew on to become a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, a tennis ball from Tim Henman's racquet and a towel thrown in by David Cameron. Duke William of Normandy changed everything - our language, our governance, our sense of identity - and that seems worth commemorating.

(l-r) Trevor Wayne, curator of Battle Museum, receiving Maclise's The Story of the Norman Conquest from Sotheran's Chris Saunders.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Feathered friends

Birds Catalogue
Looking out of the window this morning Mr Sotheran couldn't help but sniff back a melancholy tear as he saw the geese beginning to pack up for the winter and fly south. So we have decided to cheer him up by putting together a small catalogue of choice and lovely books on birds, which we'd like to share with you here:

Give the link a quick peck, hover over the lovely books and if there's anything you'd like to take home to your nest, give us a call.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Old Catalogues Unearthed

I've only worked here a few years producing catalogues, and often wondered what some of our earlier offerings were like. Well, amongst other interesting items, a recent trawl through our cellars has uncovered a pile of various old copies of our roughly annual Piccadilly Notes. This includes two copies of the first issue of which one remains untrimmed.

Published in 1933, this dates from just after the death of the last Mr Sotheran to own the business. After a year or two of uncertainty, a new owner was found and the General Manager, John Stonehouse, at last gained the freedom he had long felt he deserved to run things as he saw fit.

The general format of Piccadilly Notes, then as now, is a general mixed catalogue of interesting items currently in stock, sometimes given over to an entire collection of, for example, fine bindings. Unlike its modern counterpart the catalogue entries are interspersed with Mr Stonehouse's whimsical anecdotes and slightly self-indulgent "Random Thoughts" on aspects of the book trade. I suppose nowadays he would be our most avid blogger and social media advocate!

While I'm feeling whimsically self-indulgent I can tell you that having compared the description in the catalogue to Google Maps, the view of Piccadilly on the cover (then 121 years old and now 204) is still more-or-less recognisable.

This may turn out to be the start of a series of Random Thoughts on the Mysterious Contents of Sotheran's Cellar. Watch this space …

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Four Princes — Book Launch

John Julius Norwich was at the shop to launch his new book:

"Four Princes
Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent
 and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe"

Four of the greatest rulers in history were born within a few years of each other and their reigns overlapped. Altercations were bound to arise; and some surprising alliances. This is the product of ten years research after John Julius Norwich became fascinated with the idea of how the effects of this unique alignment have percolated through history to affect us all.

JJN's introductory speech

Book signing

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The amazing work of Thomas Hodgkin

One of the great privileges of being an antiquarian bookdealer is the chance to deal with a volume that, while at first sight unassuming, turns out to be of rather gobsmacking importance. One such book came our way recently, a copy of Volume 17 of the  Medico-Chirurgical Transactions of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London dated 1832 that once belonged to the Richmond Physical Society of Dublin and that has been rebound fairly attractively, fairly recently (see above).

The title page didn't offer any particular excitement either, though it confirmed that the volume was in a very clean condition:

A little bit of further research revealed that the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London - an inelegantly named body if ever there was one - was to become the Royal Society of Medicine in 1907, but at this point was meeting in small rooms in Lincoln's Inn Fields. This does pique the historical interest a little, but what really causes jaws to drop and eyes to bulge is the contents of the volume.

On pages 68 - 114, nestled in amongst other medical tracts, is a short paper that, on its presentation in 1832, caused little remark, Thomas Hodgkin's "On some morbid appearances of the absorbent glands and spleen". One might find that to be a rather macabre title, and indeed it is, for the paper deals with Hodgkin's observations of seven patients with tumours on their lymph nodes, spleens and livers. He was at this point lecturer of morbid anatomy and curator of the museum at Guy's Hospital, and this type of medical observation was nothing new to him. This might be why he missed the significance of his own conclusion that " this enlargement of the glands appeared to be a primitive affection of those bodies, rather than the result of an irritation propagated to them from some ulcerated surface or other inflamed texture". In other words, these patients were suffering something other than a normal inflammatory infection.

Hodgkin more or less left it at that. It was his successor at Guy's, Samuel Wilks, who realised the importance of Hodgkin's discovery. In 1856, Wilks observed patients with the same symptoms and recognised them from Hodgkin's work. In 1865 he published his own paper in which he dubbed the condition Hodgkin's disease, which we now know as Hodgkin's lymphoma. Since then, the crucial importance of Hodgkin's discovery has come to be appreciated: ""The 1832 paper is the beginning of our understanding of the lymphoreticular malignancies and can be regarded as the first step in our recognition of the immune system and its disorders"(Stephen A. Geller, Comments on the anniversary of the description of Hodgkin's disease, Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 76 (1984), pp. 815-817.) This paper is one of the founding texts of immunology with ramifications in the present day - Hodgkin's lymphoma is often associated with AIDS - and an important work in the history of oncology.

Like Hodgkin himself - Quaker, social reformer, anti-slavery campaigner - the volume that carries this work looks rather humble, but is really a brilliant gem. It exists in medical libraries throughout the world, and yet it is surprisingly rare on the open market. Only one copy appears in the auction records,  the Meyer Friedman copy which sold at Sotheby's New York in November 2001. That copy sold for over $20,000. The past is another country, alas, and that was a hugely subscribed sale at which many things went for eye-watering prices. Nevertheless, our price of £4000 for this ground-breaking work seems as modest as the author himself.