Weekend: Antiques/collecting - Castle Reveals Its Secret Collection of Precious Books
Byline: Collecting by Harry Hawkes
One of the most valuable collections still left in private ownership is to be broken up and dispersed in a series of sales which are certain to realise a huge multi-million pound windfall for its owner.
A spokesman for Sotheby's which has been instructed to carry out the sale, said: 'This spectacular and immense collection forms the library of Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire, home of the Earl of Macclesfield, who has decided to leave the castle which is complete with turrets, battlements and deep moat.
'The library there is absolutely unbelievable both in its size and the quality and rarity of its contents. The precise number of volumes is immense and the exact total will be computed in due course.
'Suffice it to say at this stage it certainly runs into a total of tens of thousands of volumes.'
The Sotheby's spokesman added: 'This immense collection was formed by the first and second earls of Macclesfield before 1750 and it has been virtually untouched since the 18th century.'
The present Lord Macclesfield, ninth holder of the title, said: 'Obviously it is very, very sad to have to break up the library which is not only
of great interest to us, but also provides scholars with a great resource of information.
'However, it is not a practical proposition to contemplate moving all the books to any new home where we may live and in any case most of them should be in academic institutions which have the proper facilities to care for them in the long term.'
For Sotheby's staff of resident book experts, plus advisors and consultants there have been long hours and much discussion and research required as their cataloguing progressed and even these experts have been amazed at the list of rarities and discoveries they have made.
The most important and most valuable of these is a 14th century handwritten book, beautifully hand illustrated, with no fewer than 250 leaves.
This medieval gem, which has been named the Macclesfield Psalter, was previously unknown, having lain out of sight for hundreds of years until the cataloguers arrived to investigate the contents of the library shelves.
'It was a complete surprise,' added the Sotheby's spokesman. It stems from about 1325, is in superb condition and its 252 pages abound with colour.'
'Without doubt, this is a stunning, absolutely magnificent work with almost every page containing scenes of animals, birds, people, monsters, grotesques, fables and vignettes of daily life.
'The beautifully drawn illustrations include two full page, a half page, 11 historical initials and thousands of exquisite miniatures in the margins throughout the book.
'Really, this is quite breathtaking. When it is sold at auction we expect the Macclesfield Psalter to sell for pounds 180,000-pounds 1,200,000.' Art experts have been comparing this newly discovered book with a similar medieval one the Douai Psalter. Sotheby's said: 'It does seem as though both Psalters could have been illuminated by the same artist.
However, as the Douai Psalter was almost completely destroyed in the First World War and today is known only through old photographs, the Macclesfield Psalter is now by far the most important record of the work done by one of the great medieval East Anglian artists. …