Image from Tibet and Lhasa by John Claude White

The top sale in May was a precious 1908 edition of Tibet and Lhasa by John Claude White.  A remarkable piece of colonial history, the book contains 53 plates taken from glass negatives that White captured during the 1904 British expedition to Tibet.  The mission itself was military in nature and designed to prevent Tibet from encroaching on the Sikkim region in the Himalayan mountains.  As political officer for Sikkim, White co-led the mission.

Such a mission today would be considered an invasion.  However, the historical and cultural implications of the images taken by White are profound. They were some of the earliest photos taken by a Westerner in the Tibet region including key landmarks such as Khamba Jong, Mount Everest, the Kyichu Valley, the Gumpas of Debung Monastery and more. A modern photography book called In the Shadow of the Himalayas details Claude White’s best photography between 1883 and 1908.

The second most expensive book on our list was the 1803 publication of The Natural History of British Fishes by Edward Donovan which sold for a shade under $19,000.  Donovan was an avid collector of natural history specimens but he mainly purchased at auctions. An armchair naturalist, he did very little exploring himself and rarely left London. Despite his lack of wanderlust, he was truly enamored with natural history and eventually opened his own private museum in 1807 called the London Museum and Institute of Natural History. 

Donovan was also a Fellow of the Linnean Society and his vast access to high quality specimens enabled him to become a very successful author of a number of natural history books including Natural History of British Birds (1792–97), Natural History of British Insects (1792–1813), and the two-volume Descriptive Excursions through South Wales and Monmouthshire among others.  Despite initial success, his expensive acquisitions, some bad publishing decisions, and the economic decline in England after the Napoleonic Wars eventually drove him into debt and he died penniless in 1837.

Fans of modern literature will be interested to see Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World on the top 10 list. Set in AD 2540, this influential novel goes way beyond the science fiction genre and asks many searching questions about the effects of technology, industrialization and mass production on society in general.  Priced at $8,750, this is the most expensive copy of Brave New World ever sold by AbeBooks.


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May's Most Expensive Sales on AbeBooks

1. Tibet and Lhasa by John Claude White - $28,000
Published in 1908 by Johnston and Hoffmann, this is the first single volume edition and contains White’s amazing photographs of the region taken during the 1904 British expedition to Tibet. 

2. The Natural History of British Fishes, Including Scientific and General Descriptions of the Most Interesting Species by Edward Donovan - $18,758
Published in 1803, this first edition contains an extensive selection of accurately finished colored plates produced by Donovan.

3.  Zanzibar; City, Island, and Coast by Richard Burton- $16,500
Published in 1872 by Tinsley Brothers, this two-volume set includes 11 engraved plates and a folding map.  Burton details the country and its natural history, and his various journeys between 1857 and 1859 in the lake regions of east Africa, including the discoveries of Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika.  This copy is a first edition, which contains a signed presentation from Isabel Burton, the explorer’s wife, to Sir Henry Rawlinson, a key army officer, politician and writer.

4. Autograph Manuscript and Letter by Alexandre Dumas Père - $9,375
A 12-page autograph manuscript and also an autograph letter, both signed by the author famed for writing The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - $8,750
Published in 1932, this first edition was signed by Huxley and bound in original yellow buckram over bevel-edged boards with a blue leather label on the spine panel and top edge gilt.

6= Shifâ' Sharif (Ash-Shifâ Bi Ta'rif Huqûq Al-Mustafâ) by 'lyâd Ibn Mûsâ Ibn ' Iyâd al-Yahsubî (aka: al-Qâdî 'Iyâd)- $7,500
Noble Healer (The Healer for Knowing the Rights of al-Mustafâ) is an extensive biography of the Prophet Muhammad.  Published circa 1800 with text in Arabic.

6=Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum by Elias Ashmole et al - $7,500
Published in 1652, this first edition is a compilation of English alchemical literature and contains works by various authors such as Thomas Norton, George Ripley, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, John Lydgate, John Dastin, Abraham Andrews and William Backhouse.

8. Ars magna Lucis et Umbrae in Decem Libros Digesta by Athanasius Kircher - $7,086
Published in 1646, this is the first edition of Kircher’s work on light, shadow, and optical phenomena. One of the first books to reference concepts like the camera obscura and magic lantern. 

9. The Complete Works of Frank Lloyd Wright - $6,850
Published in 1985, this 12-volume set offers details of Wright's 200 most significant architectural projects.

10. New Hampshire by Robert Frost- $6,000
A first edition, first printing published in 1923 and inscribed by Frost. This collection of poems won a Pulitzer Prize in its year of publication and includes several of Frost's best-known poems like Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Nothing Gold Can Stay.

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