Two prayer books, two auctions, same result

by Admin on January 30, 2014 · Market Analysis, Rare Religious Books

illuminated book of hoursYesterday, the Christie’s auction house sold The Rothchild Prayerbook, a Book of Hours, illuminated manuscript for $13,605,000 with the buyer’s premium. The auction held at the Rockefeller Plaza in New York had  an estimated sale value of $12,000,000-$18,000,000.

The book, a masterpiece of Renaissance art, contains lavish  and extensive miniature illustrations of unsurpassed beauty in the forms of the  works of Gerard Horenbout, Simon Bening and his father Alexander Bening. Alexander  Bening (died 1519), was an early 16th-century South Netherlandish miniature  painter of the Ghent-Bruges school, the school where he most likely trained his  son Simon, who specialized in producing book  of hours for royal or very rich patrons. The book of hours is a Christian  devotional book popular in the Middle Ages, that is today the most common type  of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript. Gerard Horenbout (c. 1465–1541)  was a Flemish miniaturist painter to Archduchess Margaret of Austria, and also  briefly worked at the court of Henry VIII in England.

Similar to the  Sotheby’s auction of the Bay Psalm Book that sold for $14,165,000 (estimated to  sell for $15,000,000-$30,000,000 at the end of last year, The Rothchild  Prayerbook registered a sale at the low end of the estimated value.  In fact, the books which are pretty much  unique in their own importance and composition have turned out through these  two events to be of approximately equal value.


The Bay Psalm Book The Rothchild Prayerbook
Genre Religion & Theology Religion & Theology
Description The Whole Booke of
Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre.
A Book of Hours, use
of Rome, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum.
Auction date 26-Nov-13 29-Jan-14
Imprinted by Stephen Day Ghent or Bruges
Auctioneer Sotheby’s Christie’s
Auction   estimate 15,000,000—30,000,000 $12,000,000 –
Size 174 x 104 mm 228 x 160mm
Imprint location Cambridge, Massachusetts Bavaria
Imprint date 1640 c.1505-1510
Hammer price (including
Buyer Premium)
14,165,000 USD 13,605,000 USD
Place of event sale New York New York
Condition Title-page lightly
silked on verso with minor marginal loss just touching ornamental border; reinforced
at inner margin, repaired at inner margin, with small loss to lower fore-edge
corner, and silked on blank verso; Pages with tiny loss at lower margin one with
small ink blot; 3 tiny holes costing bits of 4 letters; Leaf shaved close at
fore-edge verso just touching verse numbers with loss at lower fore-edge
corner costing about 6 words; some browning throughout, occasional minor
marginal chips or tears, a few tiny scattered ink-holes.
Small stains to upper
edge of blank margins and smudge in the margin. Slight pigment losses from
the backgrounds of two miniatures, small smudge on the edge of border. A few
miniatures with tiny inconsequential pigment losses, otherwise in immaculate
condition.Lacking 4 leaves of which 3 were
inserted singletons with miniatures and 1 integral leaf with illuminated
initial and border “TO REMAIN IN PRIVATE HANDS.”
Provenance Stephen Northup (d.
1687) of North Kingston, Rhode Island (notations on title-page verso) — Old
South Church in Boston
(1803-1874), who laid the foundation for the Austrian Rothschilds’
collections. Followed by BARON NATHANIEL VON ROTHSCHILD (1836-1905), son of
(1878-1942): he inherited Nathaniel’s palace and, presumably, the manuscript
along with it.
Binding Mid-nineteenth-century
black morocco over beveled boards,1850 rebinding
Binding with
silver-gilt centerpieces showing the lion rampant of the Palatinate and the
diaper of Bavaria. Rebound but not trimmed.
Features Lacking proper punctuation and spelling in a loose translation
of the original Hebrew into English Metre.
full-page, calendar boarders with camaïeu d’or frames with roundels
illustrating major feasts, zodiac signs and full-color miniatures of
occupations of the month, 5 small miniatures with accompanying full-page
borders, 67 full-page arch-topped miniatures with surrounding borders.
Importance First book printed
in the USA
One of the group of
spectacular manuscrits-de-luxe produced around 1490 to 1520 for an
international clientele and members of the Habsburg court in the Netherlands.


Besides selling at the low end of the estimated range, The  Rothchild Prayerbook, which was at auction once before in 1999, delivered no significant appreciation in value having sold for $13.3m then.  That sale was part of another Christie’s event  of the Collection of the Barons Nathaniel and Albert von Rothschild. Even  though Christie’s did not wind up promoting the sale as intensely as the  Sotheby’s crew had done during the months before the Bay Psalm Book auction, the  benefit that any additional marketing effort would have generated is  questionable. Bringing the same collectible item to the bidding table within  such a short timeframe may had an impact on collectors.

At the end of the day, the combined result may be that the high end market for book collecting is still below its peaks which were attained during the high flying energy days, observed prior to  the bursting of the dot-com bubble.


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