Rare Car Boot Find Fetches £2,000Posted On: 21 Dec 2023 by Felix Turner
A rare visitors’ book containing an important monologue by Gideon Mantell has sold for £2,000 on Monday 4thDecember at Wimbledon Auctions, against a pre-sale estimate of just £80-120. Purchased at a local South London car boot, the book is likely to have come from a Yorkshire country house.
In Mid-November, a walk-in vendor came to Wimbledon Auctions with some rather damaged books and manuscripts that he had purchased not long ago at a local car boot. The gentleman had previously taken the books to one of the ‘Big Three’ auction houses in London, where they had been overlooked as having little significance. This was perhaps true for most of the items, however there was one book that seemed to stand out. The book was missing it’s front and back boards, and the binding was damaged, but it had traces of gilding and a beautiful mottled coloured paper in the inside front cover. Flicking through the first few pages, it became quite obvious that this was a 19th century visitors book. Many pages were disappointingly left blank, however there were various short entries by notable historical figures in the world of natural history, palaeontology, and archaeology, including one by the famous Victorian naturalist Charles Waterton and another by Philip Grey Egerton. Some were hard to decipher, and others worn and damaged to the point that they were illegible. However, sitting in the middle of the book was a long full page entry, signed at the bottom ‘Gideon Algernon Mantell, Chester Square, Pimlico, 1849’. Mantell was a palaeontologist and naturalist noted to have discovered the Iguanodon dinosaur, among several other species. Director Felix Turner, with some difficulty, transcribed the monologue in its entirety (see below).
‘If I have been so fortunate as to kindle in the hearts of others, that intense desire for the acquisition of natural knowledge which I feel in my own: - or have illumined the mental vision with that intellectual light, which once kindled can never be extinguished, and which reveals to the soul the beaty and wisdom, and harmony of the works of the Eternal. I shall indeed rejoice for then my exertions will not have been in vain and although my humble name may soon be forgotten, and all record of my labour be effaced. Yet the influence of that knowledge which has emanated from my researches will endure forever, and by conducting to new and inexhaustible fields of inquiry, prove a never failing source of the most pure and elevated gratification. For to one imbued with a taste of natural science, Nature unfolds her hoarded poetry and her hidden spells: for him there is a voice in the winds, and a language in the wave, and he is…even as one… Who by some secret gift of soul or eye, in Envy spot beneath the smiling sun, see’s where the springs of living writer’s lie!
This monologue was dated 1849. Three years later, Mantell tragically took his own life following an opium overdose.
The book was entered with an estimate of £80-120, and after fierce contest between a telephone bidder and numerous online bidders, the hammer fell at £2,000.
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