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Book Auction Catalogues: History of Auction Catalogues and the Bodleian

Auction & Booksellers’ Catalogues in the Bodleian Library: Catalogues of Printed Books

History of Auction Catalogues and the Bodleian

The appearance of auction-sale catalogues (along with descriptive library catalogues) in large numbers began in the early eighteenth century, especially in France (although the first known auction to have taken place was in 1676, being the sale of the library of Dr Lazarus Seaman, Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge). It soon became clear that such catalogues would be of considerable importance as tools of reference and research, and this led members of the Bodleian’s staff from the librarianship of Dr Bulkeley Bandinel (1813–60) to try to bring together ‘the scattered and somewhat casual accumulations of earlier centuries … to be supplemented by the preservation of current catalogues (after use) and the addition of others by deliberate purchase …’ (D. M. R[ogers], ‘Book Auction-sale Catalogues’,  Bodleian Library Record, 10 (1981), 269–70, at p. 269).

In more recent times, the Library’s collections have increased still further. Some of those from the United Kingdom have come in under Legal Deposit (particularly the catalogues of the larger auction houses); individual booksellers have also sent copies of their latest catalogues to the Library, to allow staff to buy books for the Library’s collections; and some (especially those of older sales, so antiquarian books in their own right) have reached the Bodleian as part of gifts and bequests. These catalogues, therefore, may thus be ‘working copies’ for the staff, personal copies of scholars and collectors, or copies for the record, all gathered together for the use of those working on the history of books and collections.