In front of a huge shelf, Ed Maggs admires the old books that have made his family bookstore in London (England) famous for 170 years. It was there that a Bolivian diplomat acquired two “unique” volumes of Don Quixote nearly a century ago, which are now up for auction.
Jorge Ortiz Linares was appointed Bolivian ambassador to France in 1947 and was the son-in-law of the “tin king” Simon Patino, a Bolivian living in Paris who had made his fortune in the mining industry in the early 20th century. An avid collector, Mr. Ortiz was looking for an original edition of “Don Quixote,” the famous work by Miguel de Cervantes, now considered the first modern novel. The story of the poor reader-mad gentleman who thinks he is a vindictive knight was a resounding success when it was published in 1605.
In the 1930s, his research took Mr. Ortiz to the British capital, “probably the most important place for the international antiquarian book trade”, Ed Maggs told AFP. The latter is the great-great-grandson of Uriah Maggs, who in 1853 founded his own small bookshop, which over the years became a recognized establishment of British kings and monarchs in exile such as Manuel II of Portugal and Alfonso XIII of Spain.
After five generations, Maggs Bros. Bookstore has come to own 1,358 rare editions of Spanish-language books, collected in a catalog published in 1927 “still cited by bibliographers today”says Jonathan Reilly, Magg’s bookshop expert.
It shows works that caught Mr Ortiz’s eye at the time: two original editions of Don Quixote, Book I published in 1605 and Book II published in 1615, for sale for £3,500, “a real fortune these days” (equivalent to £174,000 or €201,000 today, according to the Bank of England converter). But when the collector enters the bookstore, the object of his desire has already been sold, and he resigns himself to leaving his contact information while he waits for a new arrival of books.
Years later, in 1936, he got the long-awaited call from the bookseller and set off on a hasty trip to London. “Why did he take the first flight? The book collector is sometimes enthusiastic and a little obsessive”, jokes Ed Maggs. Sir. Ortiz ended up buying a third edition of Book I and a first edition of Book II, says Anne Heilbronn, head of books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s auction house. He then paid £100 for the first and £750 for the second.
Unique and rare specimens
Since then, the books have remained out of public view, but they can now be admired at Sotheby’s headquarters in London, ahead of an auction on December 14, 2022 in Paris, where the works are expected to sell for 400,000 to 600,000 euros. First editions of Book I of Don Quixote are rare because many, shipped en masse to Latin America, were lost in a shipwreck near Havana, the auction house recalls.
Published in 1608, the third edition was the last printed in Cervantes’ lifetime and edited by him, emphasizes Ms. Heilbronn, who assures that “all the translations we have today come from this third edition”. But what makes these books “unique” is that they were bound in the 18th century for an English collector, and it is very rare to find Don Quixote with such old bindings, she adds.
On December 21, 1936, Mr. Ortiz took advantage of his visit to Maggs Bros to acquire three other jewels: a first edition of Cervantes’ “Novelas ejemplares” (1613), “La Florida del Inca” (1605), in which Garcilaso de la Vega tells of the conquest of America from the point of view of the natives and “Hispania Victrix” (1553) of the conquest of Mexico, the first work in history to mention California.
On Wednesday, the five works will find the mythical bookstore a few hours before leaving for Paris, where they will be auctioned along with the 83 other works from the Ortiz Linares collection, gathered with the help of the expert Jean-Baptiste de Proyart. Among them is a first edition of Goya’s book of engravings “La Tauromaquía” (1816) and large original editions of French authors such as Molière, Montesquieu, Montaigne and Descartes. The total sale is estimated at between 1.8 and 2.5 million euros.
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