Many regular followers of Toovey’s auctions will remember the remarkable single-owner collection, the Brunel Hawes Archive, offered for sale in November 2010. All items were entered by a descendant of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel. Sir Marc was an eminent engineer, but arguably overshadowed by his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The prices realised at the single-owner sale undoubtedly provided a market correction in values for items relating to the Brunel family at auction. With the accompanying national press attention after such a sale, some other Brunel-related material was entered by other vendors and successfully sold at Toovey’s Sussex auction house throughout 2011. This year looks set to be no different, with a very interesting children’s book already consigned and entered for the specialist Antiquarian and Collectors’ Book auction on 21st February. Titled The Great Eastern ABC, or, Big Ship Alphabet. Designed alike for the instruction of youth and the entertainment of all ages and conditions, the 16-page book (including the printed wrappers) is a surprising rarity, published just after the death by drowning of Captain Harrison on 21st January 1860.
It has 26 hand-coloured wood-engraved vignettes, one for each alphabetic couplet, including a pasted-over slip below a portrait of Harrison standing on deck, stating ‘H stood for poor Harrison – How sad was his fate! / It now stands for Hall, appointed of late’, perhaps making this charming book an unrecorded variant or second issue of an already scarce title. The original version published in time to be noted in ‘The Athenaeum Journal’ of 28th January 1860 and ‘The Economist’ of 14 January 1860, stated ‘H is for Harrison her skilful commander, / None can excel him (without any slander)’.
Every page in the book has delightful vignette illustrations but perhaps the most interesting from a collector’s point of view is a portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel above ‘B stands for Brunel that famed engineer, / With whom, it is said, arose the idea’. The children’s book is bound in the original printed thin card wrappers, the upper cover blocked with the title and integral vignette, the backstrip reinforced with 19th Century paper. The little book does have minor condition issues, including a little damp-staining, but for a paperback book of this age, intended for the use of children, it has survived in remarkably good condition. Perhaps this is the reason it is such a rarity, or perhaps it is because sales were poor as the boat’s subsequent ill-fated career proved to be a far from ideal example for young children. This is speculation, but Toovey’s have not been able to find another copy of the same title selling at auction in the last thirty years. This wonderful collector’s book will be offered at Toovey’s Washington salerooms with the potentially conservative pre-sale estimate of £1000-1500. (Please click on an image to make it larger, and again for further magnification)