Limerick 15: The Revenge of Queen Tomyris

[My Herodotus is auctioned, 30 and 31 May]

· 30 May 2019 ·

Been a while since I did any limericking. Good way to decompress after the Flanders Marathon.

Later this morning is the sale of Fine Books, Manuscripts, and Works on Paper by Forum Auctions. It begins at 10.30am BST at the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair (London), but the bit I care about won’t happen until sometime after 2.00pm, during the afternoon session. British Summer Time is five hours ahead of (later than) Eastern US daylight savings time.

I’ve flouted my internet manners to snag this information right off the page for Lot 316. They’re using my name to sell my book, so a bit of quid pro quo seems fair. Here’s what their specialists have to say. Note the first word in the description. We’re not in Academia anymore, Toto.

Lot 316
Estimate £6,000 – 8,000

Shakespeare.- Edward de Vere’s copy.- Herodotus. Delle Guerre de Greci, et de Persi, translated by Mattheo Maria Boiardo, woodcut device on title, some worming to upper margin, occasionally just touching headline or text, some staining at beginning, title with ink inscriptions and almost loose, contemporary Oxford binding of calf with gilt armorial device of the Earl of Oxford (a boar) to covers with gilt fleurons at corners, upper cover scratched, upper joint cracking, lacking ties, preserved in modern morocco-backed cloth drop-back box, 8vo, Venice, Appresso Lelio Bariletto, 1565.

⁂ Important Shakespearean association. A copy of Herodotus from the library of the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (1550-1604), a poet and playwright who was [is!] considered by many to be the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. Herodotus is thought to have been a source book for Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Provenance: Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (armorial binding); “Tho: Burkelei Ex dono illustriis Ed. Comitis Oxon” (ink inscription on title) and Latin motto “Nec temere nec timide”; Sir John Burkeley (ink signature to second leaf); ? Chetwode 1719 (ink inscription to title); Robert S. Pirie (bookplate).

Objects of mine don’t turn up often, much less get sold on the open market. If you’re a deVereian like Keanu Reeves, this might be a unique opportunity to see what happens to something I owned, with as direct a link to Shake-Speare as you’re probably going to get after all this time. Never say never, but if I had any breath I wouldn’t be holding it.

I’ll let you figure out where I first bought the thing, a book in Italian published in Venice in 1565. I will say that it cost me considerably less in 1575 than whatever it will sell for today.

At 3.16pm the web page updated with the results:

£38,000 plus a buyer’s fee of 25%, so £47,500 on the invoice, before taxes. Now I really want my cut.

· 31 May 2019 ·

Biding my time while awaiting news of the winner’s identity, I unearthed a bit of my book’s recent history. I assume this was the last time it changed hands prior to yesterday. Click the image to see an enlargement. (The original page is here.)

Don’t miss the Catalogue Note at the bottom.

Still no news, so I made the extremely unfamiliar effort of doing some financial calculations.

On 4 December 2015, the winning bid was $8750, or £5800. According to Sotheby’s list of winning prices, that included the buyer’s fee. On 30 May 2019, yesterday, the sale (hammer) price was £38,000, or $48,000. Since the new buyer pays the extra fee, it’s not relevant to the seller.

In GBP that’s an ROI of 555%, and in USD, 449%. Not bad for a 3.5-year investment by yesterday’s seller. To that person: you’re welcome.

I assume the ROIs are different because of the change in relative value between pounds and dollars. At the 2015 auction, £1 equalled $1.51; yesterday, $1.26. I checked those figures here.

It took a flagon of Rhenish to doctor the megrim.

A flourish with drums and trumpets…

At 2.30pm EDT (7.30 BST), the announcement came from the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship in the US. My Herodotus was bought by SOF member Ben August. They have a full writeup at their site, which you should read there, it’s quite a story. I do want to quote this extraordinary comment by Mr August:

My plan is to make it available through SOF and those details will have to be worked out. I hope it can be kept in a public way so it is available to researchers. But SOF will have first call. I didn’t want to have it go into the hands of people who would keep it away from the light as it has been over the last number of years. In any event, if it ever has to go on sale again, SOF will have the first shot at it. In the meantime, SOF will be more than welcome to promote it and display it.

I made a career, such as it was, out of not being at a loss for words. Right now I truly am.

VERO NIHIL VERIUS