The Life and Collection of an Eclectic Bookworm

The Michael Gilkes Collection of Travel and Exploration Books
The Michael Gilkes Collection of Travel and Exploration Books

Toovey’s are pleased to be offering the Travel and Exploration Book Collection of Michael Gilkes FRCS, FRCOphth., FRGS (1923-2014).  This wonderful set of books, including one of the best private collections of polar-related books in the UK, form part of a Gilkes family collective memory. Michael’s daughter, Hester Gilkes, recalls: ‘The imposing and mysterious spines, many with beautiful gold-embossed images on them, lined the bookshelves of Dad’s study – as intriguing and mysterious as the countries and exploits concealed within their pages. All the family recall the books. Our lives were almost dominated by them; tomes on almost every conceivable subject were available for consultation.’

Michael Transporting Foggy Dew
Michael Transporting the 'Foggy Dew', a yacht he built in his back garden

The books go back further than just him, of course. His grandfather, or one of them, was A.H. Gilkes, headmaster of Dulwich College. His library survived, in part, to be passed on to Michael – erudite books in mass-produced Victorian editions, the mark of a prolific reader. At some point the books had been stored on newly painted shelves, and some had spots of black paint adhering to the bottom edges. One of his children recalls reading The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, each page of the enormous work having to be carefully separated from the rest as it was turned. His mother, Denne Parker, an accomplished classical singer, had married Martin Gilkes, a poet and lecturer at Birmingham University, adding other elements to the family library. There are even books belonging to William Gilkes, who back in the early 19th century had married Mary Hemming of the Showers in Herefordshire. This Quaker ancestor had assembled a collection of those books ‘it was most needful for men to know’: Homer, Virgil and the Bible.

Michael at Shackletons Grave, South Georgia
Michael at Shackletons Grave, South Georgia

It really began, though, with books on the Antarctic, which Michael started to acquire prior to his posting as a newly qualified doctor to the whaling station on South Georgia in 1946, mainly based at Leith, but also at Grytviken. Upon qualification as a doctor, a gift from his great uncle, Michael Parker, an Oxford don and expert on the Roman army, permitted the acquisition of the three volumes of The South Polar Times. Over the next sixty-odd years, the collection expanded to reflect his growing range of subject-related interests, and now includes – in addition to the general Antarctic section – named Antarctic expeditions, whales and whaling, works on the great explorers Columbus, Cook, Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, a fine section on cartography, islands and North and South America, including an extensive section on Patagonia.

During a long and rich life, this passion for adventure would see Michael crewing on an America’s Cup Race, living and working for a time researching glaucoma in both Jerusalem and the Gambia, building his own thirty-foot yacht in his back garden and sailing her around Britain and over to Europe, and traveling extensively, particularly in South America. On his retirement from his career as an ophthalmic surgeon, he made a number of voyages back to Antarctica – the region which fascinated and drew him the most.

Like Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child, the books in this catalogue reflect a ‘satiable curiosity’ for exploration, and an inspirational hunger for the new and undiscovered.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Comet resembling a spaceship over Arabia in 1479 © Toovey's
Comet resembling a spaceship over Arabia in 1479

With the second teaser trailer coming out for the forthcoming Star Wars movie we couldn’t resist a tenuously-linked blog post!

The above woodblock illustration is not from a galaxy far, far away but in fact from a copy of Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon by Conrad Wolffhart (1518-1561). The book was printed in Basel by Heinrich Petri circa August 1557 – so still a long time ago! According to the text it actually depicts a comet flying over Arabia in 1479, but conspiracy theorists could argue this is the earliest printed  image of a spaceship. The resemblance is beyond doubt.

Wolffhart’s work includes a number of woodcut illustrations and is an encyclopaedic anthology of weird and wonderful curiosities and natural wonders. Represented are other comets, including Halley’s comet, but also prodigies, portents and monsters. The scene of frogs raining down from the sky gracing the front cover of the printed catalogue is also from this volume. The book is offered as Lot 3134 in Toovey’s Specialist Book Auction on 21st April 2015 and carries a pre-sale estimate of £400-600 and specialist Nicholas Toovey states “due to the condition we have rightly been cautious with the estimate but expectations could be exceeded due to the interesting nature of the book.” Perhaps the Force will be strong with this one!

Here at Toovey’s we are all eagerly awaiting the release of the movie in December but until then this will have to do…

John Piper’s Brighton Aquatints

John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939
John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939

John Piper was one of the leading artists of the 20th century Modern British Art Movement. He worked in the abstract, romantic and classical traditions as a painter, ceramicist, writer, designer and printmaker. Piper’s 1939 illustrations for the book ‘Brighton Aquatints’, have been credited with the revival of the aquatint as a 20th century print medium in Britain.

The book consist of twelve aquatints of Brighton. Two hundred standard copies were printed and a further fifty-five copies were hand-coloured by the artist. The prints were not signed, although Piper did sign and dedicate some copies of the book. The illustrations were printed by the two Alexander brothers who had a basement workshop in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London. The watermarks which appear in the paper are irregularly placed and are styled as a hand raised in blessing, a head, said to be that of Christ, and the date 1399.

The process of creating an aquatint involves exposing a plate, usually of copper or zinc, to acid through an applied layer of granulated, melted resin. The acid incises the plate between the granules creating areas of evenly pitted surface. This can be varied by applying additional resin, scraping and burnishing. Different strengths of acids are also employed. When the grains are removed and the plate is printed it results in variations of tone. The effect often resembles watercolours and wash drawings, hence the name Aquatint.

Rooted in the English tradition John Piper’s work often relates to a place, be that a landscape or a building. Piper brings a particular quality of engagement to his subjects. He captures the poetic, his emotional response and thoughts, as well as the essence of the physical reality. These themes and responses belong to the English Romantic tradition. Piper seeks to look beyond what is immediately apparent; to what the artist Paul Nash referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, ‘a reality more real’.

John Piper - ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939
John Piper - ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ combine technical innovation with exceptional draughtsmanship, complexity and detail. They are accompanied by a very personal introduction by Lord Alfred Douglas and notes to each image by the artist.

This ‘Piperesque’ view of Brighton re-acquaints us with the familiar. I was in Brighton last week as a sea fret rolled in causing the Brighton Pavilion to shimmer in the bright spring sunlight. The scene was reminiscent of Piper’s view of the ‘The Royal Pavilion’ which remains remarkably unchanged from his 1939 aquatint. In his notes Piper describes the building’s extravagant beauty and the great affection in which it is held.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton in the spring sun light
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton in the spring sun light

In ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’ we are reminded of a view now lost to us. John Piper describes how the pier appears like a ‘dazzling white meringue, brittle and sweet…florid and grand as anywhere.’ Regency Square is laid out on a gentle slope in the view beyond.

In both these aquatint prints the use of acid at different stages in the process has created the texture of the grass and background. Stopping out varnish repeatedly applied has been used to create the waves and skies.

John Piper wrote quoting Constable ‘Painting is with me but another word for feeling…’ Piper’s ability to use landscapes and buildings as a focus for his emotions has the effect of gifting the world with, what has been described as, ‘a human sensibility’. These qualities are apparent in ‘Brighton Aquatints’. His work gives an extraordinary articulation of the English vision and spirit.

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ rarely comes to the market and so it is with some excitement that I am looking forward to Toovey’s specialist Book sale on Tuesday 21st April, in which a copy, signed by the artist, will be auctioned with a pre-sale estimate of £2000-3000. (View the lot here)

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th April 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Winnie-the-Pooh: A Bear from Sussex

Ernest Howard Shepard - 'Make This a Pooh Christmas', pen and ink on prepared board, signed with initials, titled and annotated, measuring 18.5cm x 32cm

I wonder how many of us will be giving and receiving A.A. Milne’s wonderful stories about Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and their many friends. These timeless characters are brought to life in our imaginations by E.H. Shepard’s captivating illustrations.

Both author and illustrator lived in Sussex. A.A. Milne purchased Cotchford Farm on the edge of Hartfield, East Sussex, in 1925. The surrounding Ashdown Forest would provide the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood where Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh’s adventures are set. Ernest Howard Shepard lived at Lodsworth near Petworth, West Sussex.

E.H. Shepard was born in St John’s Wood and by 1906 had become a successful illustrator. He served in the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross for his ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ at the Battle of Passchendaele.

Milne had been uncertain that Shepard was the right illustrator for his stories. But after the success of ‘When We Were Very Young’ Milne acknowledged Shepard’s contribution by arranging for the illustrator to receive a share of the royalties.

A.A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, was born in 1920. Famously the inspiration for the characters in these stories came from Christopher Robin’s toys. However E.H. Shepard based his depiction of Winnie-the-Pooh on his son’s teddy bear called Growler.

Winnie-The-Pooh was first introduced as Edward.

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t.”

The pencil and ink drawing by E.H. Shepard, illustrated here, remains one of my favourite objects ever auctioned at Toovey’s. Titled ‘Make This a Pooh Christmas’ this festive scene depicts Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo putting on antlers, whilst Winnie-the-Pooh sits in the sleigh dressed as Father Christmas. Piglet busily fills the sacks with books. Judging by the city skyline the friends have ventured beyond the borders of the Hundred Acre Wood. Perhaps unsurprisingly this wonderful sketch realised £16,000.

A 1926 first edition of Winnie-the-Pooh in its original red morocco and gilt binding and with the rare original publisher’s box

Copies of these stories, even early editions, can be bought reasonably but what a difference a fine edition or a dust-jacket can make. Take for example this 1926 first edition of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ in its original red morocco and gilt binding. It came in with its rare original glassine dust-jacket and publisher’s box and realised £900 in a Toovey’s specialist book auction. Published by Methuen & Co the four first editions shown here all had their paper dust-jackets. They included ‘When We Were Very Young’, 1924; ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, 1926; ‘Now We Are Six’, 1927 and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’, 1928. Together they realised £2900 at Toovey’s.

First edition copies of When We Were Very Young, 1924; Winnie-the-Pooh, 1926; Now We Are Six, 1927 and The House at Pooh Corner, 1928; in their original dust-jackets

I still take great pleasure reading the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, especially in younger company. The stories have the ability to fill me with joy and laughter. I love Pooh’s delight in just being him and his conversations with Piglet:

‘ “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.’

Who could not share Pooh’s delight in food when Christmas champagne, scrambled egg and smoked salmon are on the menu!

Toovey’s next specialist sale of books is to be held on Tuesday 21st April 2015. A first edition of ‘House at Pooh Corner’ from 1928 with its original glassine dust-jacket and publisher’s box is one of the early entries! If you would like advice on selling or buying collectors’ books please feel free to contact Nicholas Toovey at Toovey’s on 01903 891955.

Perhaps this Christmas you too should share the delights of that fine Sussex bear Winnie-The-Pooh. Whether it’s a new or a collector’s copy the stories, with E. H. Shepard’s illustrations, won’t fail to delight. Make yours a Winnie-The-Pooh Christmas!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 17th December 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Library Collection of the late W. Leslie Weller MBE, DL, FSA

The Library Collection of the late W. Leslie Weller MBE, DL, FSA

Tuesday 2nd December 2014 at 11am

Toovey’s are proud to announce this additional sale to our 2014 calendar, which comprises the contents of the library of the late William Leslie Weller (1935-2014), consigned from his former home: Hobshorts House, Rookcross Lane, West Grinstead, West Sussex.


Leslie Weller, as he preferred to be known, was born in the Sussex village of Itchingfield. His father was a tenant farmer of some 100 acres close to the church. Leslie was educated at Collyer’s Grammar School in Horsham. His rural upbringing installed in him a love of the Sussex countryside and country pursuits but Leslie also developed strong interests in antiques and the fine arts and Sussex history and antiquities. All these passions would shape his life and work to come. Leslie went on to qualify as a chartered surveyor and in later life held the post of chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Art and Antiques faculty.

Duke of Beaufort and Leslie Weller © Jim Meads
Duke of Beaufort & W. Leslie Weller © Jim Meads

Leslie enjoyed a long and illustrious career in the field of fine art auctioneering. It was his inspiration and dedication that created the first regional centre of expertise outside London for Sotheby’s. For many years he was chairman of Sotheby’s in Sussex and a director of the firm. His other interests led him to achieve the posts of President of the Sussex Archaeological Society and Master of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers. He was a keen horseman and an active member of the Horsham and Crawley Hunt for many years.

Leslie's Garden Office at Hobshorts
Leslie in his Garden Office at Hobshorts

Leslie Weller was the first chairman of Chichester Cathedral Restoration Trust and over a period of thirty years played an important part in raising more than £10million for essential restoration work to the building and artworks within, including more recently the cathedral’s panel paintings by 16th century artist Lambert Barnard. For his services to the cathedral and contributions to the arts, Leslie was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List 2014.

Despite his numerous achievements, Leslie Weller was a modest man who will be remembered with great fondness by his many friends and acquaintances in our local community, Sussex as a whole and far beyond.

Leslie's Garden Office
Leslie's Garden Office

Company director Rupert Toovey comments: “Leslie was a generous friend and a great inspiration to me. He supported me in becoming a chartered surveyor in the specialist fields of fine art valuation and auctioneering and was delighted when I followed in his footsteps to become chairman of the R.I.C.S. Art and Antiques faculty. It was, therefore, a great honour to be asked by Leslie’s family to conduct this single-owner sale on their behalf.”

Sussex Horsfield extra-illustrated
Fine, extra-illustrated set of Horsfield's Sussex
EH Shepard Original drawing for sale
E.H. Shepard original drawing from Everybody's Pepys

Leslie lived at Hobshorts, a fine 17th century farmhouse in the West Grinstead countryside, with his wife, Brenda, and their dogs. His library was divided between two rooms in the main house and his private office, which was in a charming converted outhouse in the garden, offering a picturesque view across a pond to the South Downs. Leslie’s books reflect all his varied interests and they were very important to him indeed. The sale features a good selection of works on his beloved Sussex, including a fine copy of Thomas Walker Horsfield’s “The History, Antiquities, and Topography of the County of Sussex”, printed at the Sussex Press in Lewes in 1835. Usually in two volumes, this copy was extended to seven in 1892 with about 1500 extra illustrations. Bound in deep purple morocco by Zaehnsdorf, the set will carry a pre-sale estimate of £3000-5000.

An original drawing by the celebrated Sussex book illustrator Ernest H. Shepard leads a collection of other personal effects from Leslie’s library to be included in the sale. Originally published in “Everybody’s Pepys”, this 28 x 18cm pen and ink drawing will be offered with a pre-sale estimate of £600-1000. Other of Leslie’s possessions to be auctioned include maps, a barograph, a globe and two of his gavels.

The sale is on view on Saturday 29th November 2014, from 9.30am to 12noon, Monday 1st December 2014, from 10am to 4pm, and on the day of the auction, Tuesday 2nd December 2014, from 9am to the start of the sale at 11am.

The catalogue will be available in print and online at by mid-November.