An old book about mushrooms doesn’t sound particularly gripping. But hold on, the book in question is special. Published in 1675, Theatrum Fungorum by Franciscus van Sterbeeck was the first book to be dedicated entirely to fungi. Frans van Sterbeeck was a Flemish priest with a passion for botany, who lived in Antwerp in Belgium. In 1601, a now highly-collectible botany book called Rariorum Plantarum Historia addressed mushrooms along with many other plants, but van Sterbeeck made botanical history with his work.
The book was written in Dutch, rather than Latin, to be understood by the common man (such as farmers, kitchen servants and cooks), and offered valuable advice on what fungi were edible and what were poisonous. The author details 349 fungi and features copper engraved illustrations (one pictured at left, three pictured below). Theatrum Fungorum was inspired by an important manuscript on mushrooms called Code de l'Éscluse and that original document can be seen on display in Leiden University library in Holland.
Our list of expensive sales from March also includes a first American edition of Moby-Dick, some famous French poetry, a lottery ticket signed by an American president, a signed account of how DNA was discovered, and a rare map of Russia.
1. Theatrum Fungorum by Franciscus van Sterbeeck - $13,916
A fine first edition of this 1675 study of mushrooms. The book depicts 349 varieties and was written in Dutch.
2. Moby-Dick or, The Whale by Herman Melville - $12,595
First American edition, published in 1851, by Harper and Brothers, this copy contains no signatures, bookplates or markings of any kind. This edition did not sell well upon initial publication and became scarce after a fire destroyed many of Harper’s unsold copies in 1853.
3. Poèmes Saturniens by Paul Verlaine - $9,194
Published in 1866, this signed first edition is the first book Verlaine published and was limited to 500 copies. This French poet was associated with the Symbolist movement, and is known as a key figure in the Fin de Siècle (end of the century) era in poetry.
4. Mundus Subterraneus by Athanasius Kircher - $9,157
A first edition of Kircher’s famous work that attempts to explain the mysteries lying beneath the surface of the earth, produced in two volumes 1665.
5. Mountain Road Lottery of 1768 ticket #214 signed by George Washington - $9,000
This was an original ticket from the 1768 Mountain Road Lottery, a project conceived by Washington (among others) to help finance a road though the Allegheny Mountains in Virginia. The ticket, with detached numbered stub, was signed by Washington.
6. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson - $8,500
7. Tabula Russiae by Hessel Gerritsz - $6,600
Rare and important 1614 map of Russia based upon a proof copy of 1613, by the Dutch engraver and cartographer Hessel Gerritsz. It was compiled from manuscripts brought back from Russia by Isaac Massa, a Dutch merchant and diplomat who traded in Moscow and was renowned for his knowledge of Russian geography. The map has a large title cartouche, sailing ships, a compass rose, and three men in Russian military uniform.
8= La Princesse de Babylone by Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire - $6,500
A 1948 first edition of lithographs by Dutch painter Kees van Dongen which illustrate Voltaire’s La Princesse de Babylone – a philosophical piece of fiction. In total, there are 49 original color lithographs and 22 lettrines by van Dongen. A lettrine is a decorated upper case letter used to introduce a piece of text usually at the start of a chapter.
10. La Révolte des Anges by Anatole France - $6,325
The text of France’s novel is accompanied by 58 colored lithographs by Kees van Dongen, this edition was limited to 210 numbered copies and published in 1951.
11. Illuminated manuscript leaf from a Book of Hours - $6,000
Full-page miniature depicting the Nativity including Mary, Joseph, three angels, and the shepherds surrounding the infant Christ in the stable, within an architectural frame and on the opposite side a floral, berry, and acanthus-leaf border to the left of the text, which has one large and several smaller illuminated capitals.