Book Treasures Go under Hammer; Richard Edmonds Looks at the Bissell Collection of Books Being Sold Soon at Sotheby's

By Edmonds, Richard | The Birmingham Post (England), October 31, 1998 | Go to article overview

Book Treasures Go under Hammer; Richard Edmonds Looks at the Bissell Collection of Books Being Sold Soon at Sotheby's


Edmonds, Richard, The Birmingham Post (England)


The late Edward Ernest Bissell ran the village post office and shop at Ashorne in Warwickshire. He also sat on the parish council as part of his civic duties and was known affectionately as 'The Mayor of Ashorne'.

All very nice - but there's more. Bissell, who died in January aged 87, was a collector of some note of antiquarian books, who kept his choice volumes in a house in the village and scorned to lock his door.

Sotheby's will be including 58 lots from what is known nowadays as The Bissell Collection on November 10 and the estimate is a cool pounds 100,000. Not bad for the modest owner of a village shop.

But from all that I can gather, Bissell loved his books so much he rarely left them unattended at home. He declined invitations to lecture on children's books to learned societies and so scholars came to him instead from around the world for research and pleasure in handling fine things.

Another interesting sidelight for collectors on this wonderful collection is that it was largely purchased by mairder from booksellers' catalogues - and Bissell would certainly not have been a millionaire and so what he gathered together on a limited inc ome is astonishing.

Among the treasures is a first edition, first issue, of Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (estimate: pounds 20,000).

A first edition, second issue of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is expected to make pounds 16,000. The book once belonged to the son of the original 'Alice'. The most sought after fantasy illustrations by that great artist Arthur Rackham, are the ones that Rackham did for J M Barrie's Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. This fine copy, signed by Rackham, has 50 colour plates, is rare and will probably exceed the pounds 3,500 Sotheby's are expecting for it.

While his customers were buying stamps and postal orders many years ago, Bissell's mind must certainly have been in the land of books. His copy of the fairytale book, The Diverting Works of the Countess D'Anois was purchased and placed on his shelves not without some thought I imagine. The book is dated 1707 and is therefore one of the first translations into English of this celebrated French text.

It will probably fetch pounds 8,000 and is the only known copy of the work to appear at auction. A rare first edition of the first versification of the fairytale Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper is estimated to make between pounds 1,500-pounds 2,00 0.

Perrault's important book Histoires au Contes du Temps Passe, containing Cinderella, was first published in Paris in 1697. The first English translation appeared in 1729 and in 1808, Harris, the publishers, printed this current copy that will be sold and which is the first in verse.

I wish I had kept my childhood copy of Kenneth Grahame's classic The Wind in the Willows. Bound in green linen it was a wartime austerity edition and it was purchased for a shilling from the class teacher. But Bissell did much better than me. His first e dition, first issue of The Wind in the Willows has retained the illusive dust jacket showing the price six shillings. This rarity among children's books (although better enjoyed by adults to my mind) will no doubt exceed the pounds 15,000 Sotheby's expec t for it.

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