This guide describes the range of current and historic auction sale catalogues and book dealer catalogues held at the British Library in London. It also lists the main printed and online reference tools that can be used to gain access to them.
The British Library's collection of sale catalogues has been largely acquired through purchase or donation. Sale catalogues are generally out of scope from a legal deposit point of view, meaning that they will not have been automatically sent to the British Library or British Museum by their publishers. It cannot thus be assumed that for companies other than the big auction houses mentioned below there is anything in the Library's collections at all. It should also be borne in mind that, apart from the auctioneers' archival copies, the Library's sets are often incomplete.
The largest collection of older auction sale and booksellers' catalogues is at shelfmark 'S.C.' followed by a number (e.g. S.C.1234). The collection seems to have been begun by transferring catalogues from other parts of the British Museum Library in around 1906. You can find catalogue records for all these items in Explore the British Library. Please note these volumes are restricted due to their poor physical state. Rare Books Reference Enquiry Desk staff can advise on how to find and order microfilm substitutes in place of the originals.
The Library holds the following sets of archival auction sale catalogues which have been annotated by the auctioneers at the time of sale. David Pearson's Provenance research in book history (London, 1994) gives a clear account of these firms, especially their name changes, and outlines the holdings of other UK libraries.
Evans. Shelfmark: S.C.Evans
Catalogues for 1812 to 1845. Accompanied by a rough manuscript index of consignors. See also Robert Harding Evans of Pall Mall: auction catalogues 1812-1846, by M Vaulbert de Chantilly (London, 2002) [copy shelved at RAR381.45].
Hodgson & Co. Shelfmark: S.C.Hodgson.
Catalogues for 'Hodgson & Co.', as well as their predecessors 'Robert Saunders' and 'Saunders & Hodgson', for 1807 to 1967. Manuscript list in 2 vols. (the first to 1901 with index and notes by EB Harris) of Hodgson sales to 1902 at shelfmark S.C.Hodgson(a); further material in the Department of Manuscripts.
Lewis. Shelfmark: S.C.Lewis.
Catalogues for 1825 to 1852.
Phillips. Shelfmark: S.C.Phillips.
Catalogues for 1850 to 1995.
Puttick & Simpson. Shelfmark: S.C.Puttick & Simpson.
Catalogues for 1846 to 1967. There is a typescript index (1928) of sales 1846-70 at shelfmark: C.131.k.15.
Sotheby. Shelfmark: S.C.Sotheby(1).
Catalogues for 'Sotheby', including predecessors 'Samuel Baker' and 'Baker & Leigh', for 1739 to 22 October 1970.
A microfilm set, re-arranged chronologically and with missing catalogues filmed from other collections, runs from 1734 (Baker at Russell St) to 1980; this is in storage at shelfmark: Mic.B.740 (use the reel indexes in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at RAM381.17 to establish the relevant part and reel numbers).
Southgate. Shelfmark: S.C.Southgate.
Catalogues for 1825 to 1868.
Wheatley. Shelfmark: S.C.Wheatley.
Catalogues for 'Wheatley' and predecessors 'Stewart, Wheatley & Adlard' and 'Wheatley & Adlard' for 1825 to 1837.
The British Library has only a partial collection of catalogues for Christie's. Selected catalogues were acquired for the period 1771 to 1851, and these are catalogued individually with their own shelfmarks in Explore the British Library. For the period 1852 to the present day, an incomplete run is held at shelfmark: S.C.Christie's. [The auctioneer's annotated archival set of catalogues from 1766 is still at Christie's. These are available to researchers by prior arrangement with the Librarian, Christie's Archives, 8 King St., London SW1Y 6QT; telephone: +44 (0)20 7389 2617]. Staff in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room can advise on how to place orders for this material (or email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Since the late 19th century, selected catalogues from some 2,000 major book dealers in Britain and abroad (plus a few publishers) have been acquired. These are kept in the 'S.C.Named' sequence (e.g. S.C.Maggs Bros., S.C.Marlborough). For many there is no entry in Explore the British Library. The separate Handlist of sale catalogues in the 'S.C. Named' sequence records the companies and individual dealers, and gives a broad indication of the dates for which their catalogues are held. A copy is available for consultation at the Rare Books Reference Enquiry Desk, where staff can also advise on how to place orders for this material (email: email@example.com).
There are catalogues of the Hodgson trade sales (including books, books in quires, and copyrights) 1806-88 [shelfmark: C.124.l.1] and of remainders 1854-1902 [shelfmark: S.C.Hodgson(3)]; and of the Longman trade sales of 1704 and 1718-68 deposited on loan by Longmans, Green & Co. Ltd. [C.170.aa.1; these are restricted and the photocopies at Cup.407.e.6 should be used]. There is also a set of photocopies [shelfmark: Cup.1259.e.4] of the collection of trade sales formerly belonging to Rivington & Co., the originals of which are now at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
There are auction catalogues (and not just of books) elsewhere in the printed books areas of the British Library. Most of the catalogues acquired before about 1860 are at shelfmarks beginning 821, including many volumes formerly owned by Narcissus Luttrell (notably at 821.i.1-4, but there are probably others elsewhere in 821 and at 11906.e) and by Sir Hans Sloane.
Catalogues in the 'S.C.Numbered' sequence are described in Explore the British Library. However, more detailed catalogue records for this material (and indeed for the collection at 821.i.) can be found in the Register of Preservation Surrogates (formerly: Register of Preservation Microforms). Only selected material in the 'S.C.Named' sequence is described in Explore the British Library. There is however a separate handlist.
The List of catalogues of English book sales 1676-1900 now in the British Museum, compiled by H Mattingly and I A K Burnett (London, 1915), lists about 8,000 volumes and gives their shelfmarks. The entries are arranged chronologically, but there is an index of owners. Two annotated copies of this work can be found on the open shelves in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at RAX381.45: one contains notes made at the British Museum, but is not now up-to-date; the other reproduces a copy annotated by A N L Munby, and has details of items held in the British Library and elsewhere (the original of this is at Cambridge University Library). A further annotated copy is kept at the Rare Books Reference Enquiry Desk. Unannotated copies can be found at shelfmarks: RAR381.45002 (open shelves in Rare Books and Music), HLR381.45002 (open shelves in Humanities) and MSS381.45002 (open shelves in Manuscripts). When using the List of catalogues of English book sales... please note that:
- it is a list of book sale catalogues;
- the Hodgson and Phillips sets (and the post-1888 Puttick & Simpson catalogues) were acquired after 1915 and are thus not included;
- 19th century anonymous sales are usually omitted (except for Sotheby's), as are duplicate copies;
- nearly all of the catalogues listed were deliberately omitted from printed editions of the British Museum Library Catalogue, and therefore do not appear in the Explore the British Library;
- the shelfmarks of the auctioneers' archival sets are given in an abbreviated form which needs to be expanded before the volume can be ordered from storage (e.g. S.-C.E. needs to be expanded to S.C. Evans, and S.-C.P. to S.C. Puttick & Simpson).
- it omits the early 17th-century catalogues in the Bagford Collection, for which M.H. Wolf's Catalogue and indexes to the title-pages ... preserved in the ... Bagford Collection should be used.
A N L Munby and L Coral's British book sale catalogues 1676-1800: a union list (London, 1977) updates the List of catalogues of English book sales 1676-1900 now in the British Museum. Besides continuing the work through to 1900, it also enhances the information about pre-1801 holdings (adding for example details of sale catalogues held in the Bagford Collection and in the Department of Manuscripts) [copies on the open shelves at: RAR381.45002, HLR381.45002 and MSS381.45002].
18th-century catalogues included in both the List of catalogues of English book sales and British book sale catalogues 1676-1800 are also listed in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Although the names of vendors and consignors are included in the ESTC entries, they are not indexed along with the names of authors etc., and have to be searched as title words. When searching for auctioneers and booksellers in the ESTC, it should be noted that a bookseller's name will be catalogued as a personal name if there only appears to be one of them: if the name on the title-page is in the form 'Messrs. Smith' or 'John Smith and Son', then the ESTC will probably have catalogued the name as a corporate rather than a personal name.
There is an extensive collection of British and foreign sale catalogues held by the Department of Manuscripts. Many are not duplicated elsewhere in the Library. Where they are not unique copies, they may contain annotations or provide information additional to that to be found in other copies. There is also a large collection of dealers' catalogues from the 18th century onwards. All are reserved from reader access for 30 years after publication or production as many departmental annotations are considered commercially sensitive.
Pre-1801 English catalogues are included in Munby and Coral's British book sale catalogues 1676-1800. There is an annotated copy of the List of catalogues of English book sales, 1676-1900, now in the British Museum giving the pressmarks of all catalogues in the Department of Manuscripts (also containing manuscript numbers of some of the items purchased). Dealers' catalogues to 1800 are also noted in this copy; those from 1801 to 1900 are added as annotations and are also described in more detail in a separate manuscript list. Foreign catalogues can be found in A J Watson's List of catalogues of foreign book sales 1709-1922 in the Department of Manuscripts of the British Museum (Typescript, 1923). In addition, there are card indexes of later catalogues with supporting manuscript lists held by the Department. For availability of all these finding aids, please ask in the Manuscripts Reading Room (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
More general reference sources for Book Sale Catalogues
The best general account of auction sale catalogues of books and manuscripts is in Chapter 5 of David Pearson's Provenance research in book history (London, 1994) [copies on the open shelves in British Library Reading Rooms at RAR090.16 GRE, HLR002.0941 and MSS002.0941], supplemented by the notes to the 1998 reprint.
Post-1900 English book sales
If you are searching for books formerly owned by a well-known collector, the date and auctioneer or book dealer's name can often be found in the various reference books on collectors. In the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at material of this kind can be found at shelfmark: RAR002.0922. Dates and names of auctioneers for many major sales can be found in English collectors of books and manuscripts. 1530-1930, by S de Ricci (Oxford, 1930) [copies on the open shelves at: RAR002.0922, HLR002.0922, and MSS002.0922].
For the 19th and 20th centuries, try the section on English book sale catalogues in J Blogie's Répertoire des catalogues de ventes de livre imprimés (Brussels, 1985- ) at the Belgian Royal Library [copy in Rare Books and Music at: RAR381.45]. You may also find help by consulting the lists of sales printed in each volume of Book Auction Records [set in Rare Books and Music at: RAR381.45], although these are less helpful than they might be, or from the gossip pages of the Book Collector [set in Rare Books and Music at: RAR002.075 small-sized sequence]. If you suspect a British Museum connection, try A History of the British Museum Library by P R Harris [copy in Rare Books and Music at: RAR027.541].
SCIPIO: Art and Rare Book Sales Catalogs may also prove helpful in identifying the venue and date of a sale. British Library readers can access this database through any reading room 'Electronic Resources' computer.
There is a good bibliography by R Folter, 'An annotated checklist of catalogue literature', in Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 89 (1995), pp. 469-74 [set at: RAR010 small-sized sequence]. Information can also be found in Lugt (see the notes on art sales below) or in the lists of sale catalogues held by the Royal Library in Brussels (see above). Early sales are listed in G Loh's Die europäischen Privatbibliotheken und Buchauktionen . Bd. I: 1555-1675 (Leipzig, 1997), Bd. II: 1676-1689 (Leipzig, 2000) [copies in Rare Books and Music at: RAR381.45002]. At the British Library, foreign book sale catalogues are often described individually in Explore the British Library under the name of the owner of the collection.
France: F. Bléchet, Les ventes publiques de livres en France 1630-1750: répertoire des catalogues conservés à la Bibliothèque Nationale (Oxford, 1991) [copy in Rare Books and Music at: RAR381.45].
C Péligry and E Cabrol, Les catalogues de bibliothèques du XVIIe, XVIIIe et du XIXe siècles, jusqu'en 1815 (Toulouse, 1974) [copy in storage at: LB.31.b.18593]. (Sale catalogues in the Bibliothèque municipale de Toulouse).
Esprit des livres: catalogues de vente de bibliothèques conservés dans les bibliothèques parisiennes.
Germany: G. Loh, Verzeichnis der Kataloge von Buchauktionen und Privatbibliotheken aus dem deutschsprachigen Raum (Leipzig, 1995- ; Teil.1: 1607-1730; Teil 2: 1731-60; Teil 3: 1761-80) [copy in Rare Books and Music at: RAR381.45002].
Hans Dieter Gebauer, Bücherauktionen in Deutschland im 17. Jahrhundert (Bonn, 1981), 'Bonner Beiträge zur Bibliotheks- und Bücherkunde', vol. 28 [copy in storage at: 2714.bc.1/28].
Spain: A. Rodríguez-Moniño, Historia de los catálogos de librería españoles, 1661-1840 (Madrid, 1966) [copy in storage at: 2710.ca.3].
Netherlands: Microfiche series Book sales of the Dutch Republic 1599-1800 [set in storage at: Mic.F.862]. This is indexed via a database accessible through any 'Electronic Resources' computer onsite at the British Library (see list of Rare Books Electronic Databases).
North America: D.C. Dickinson, Dictionary of American book collectors (New York, London, 1986) [copy in Rare Books and Music at: RAR002.0922].
R B Winans, A descriptive checklist of book catalogues separately printed in America 1693-1800 (Worcester, Mass., 1981) [copy in storage at: 2725.c.167].
Individual pre-1801 catalogues may be described on the English Short Title Catalogue.
American Book Prices Current prints alphabetical indexes to named sales, which also turn up in the cumulated indexes, all now on a CD-ROM (updated annually). This is available to British Library readers via any 'Electronic Resources' computer onsite.
Special collections of art sale catalogues at the British Library include:
- A collection of continental (mostly French) art sale catalogues covering 1753 to 1839, formed by William Dyce RA (1806-64). These are the first 20 volumes from his sale at Christie's on 5 May 1865. Shelved in storage at: 562.e.18-77. The collection is catalogued in full for the Register of Preservation Surrogates (Microforms), and a positive microfilm of the collection is held in storage at: Mic.C.12962.
- A collection of around 1,300 British and foreign art sale catalogues dating from 1717 to 1944 (but mainly 1840-1900), given by Edward Machell Cox in 1955. Shelved at various locations: older catalogues are mostly in S.C.Numbered sequence; others are in the S.C.Named sequence, at 1482., or arranged with other books on the same subject. There is a typescript list in storage at shelfmark: 011919.g.1, with a few locations added in manuscript. Many copies are annotated, some by auctioneers; many are from the collections of Ernest Gambart, Dawson Turner, Sir Thomas Phillipps, and other well-known collectors.
- Various catalogues of sales of works of art are collected at: C.119.h.3.
F. Lugt's Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques interessant l'art ..., 4 vols. (The Hague, 1938-64; Paris, 1987) gives locations, but is patchy for British Library holdings. There is a full set on open access in the Humanities Reading Room at: HLL702.94; copies of vols. 1-2 only can also be found in Rare Books and Music at: RAR381.45; see also Art Sales Catalogues Online below. Lugt appears to have looked at the otherwise uncatalogued sale catalogues and announcements of sales in the Bagford Collection, especially in Harl.5947 (original restricted: use the microfilm at: Mic.B.815/10). You cannot always tell from Lugt whether the sale catalogue listed is held by the British Museum Library - and thus ought now be with the British Library- or is in fact in the collections of one of the British Museum departments (Coins & Medals, Greek & Roman, and Prints & Drawings all hold sale catalogues).
The subscription database Art Sales Catalogues Online comprises an electronic version of Lugt's Répertoire with full digital facsimiles of selected pre-1825 catalogues. The facsimiles are made from originals held in various libraries, and many of the items are not otherwise available at the British Library. Access is through any onsite 'Electronic Resources' computer. The related IDC microfilm series (Art Sales Catalogues 1600-1860) is not held.
SCIPIO: Art and Rare Book Sales Catalogs contains descriptions of over 800,000 sale catalogues held primarily in American libraries, but also at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The items described are predominantly art sale catalogues dating from 1599 to the present day. British Library readers can access this database through any reading room 'Electronic Resources' computer. The English Short Title Catalogue can also be used to determine the locations of many pre-1801 art sale catalogues held by other libraries.
Outside the British Library, the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum holds extensive collections of art sale catalogues: see their Auction House Sale Catalogues webpage. The Tate Britain Gallery on Millbank holds an important microfilm collection which reproduces some 13,000 catalogues from the working library of the Knoedler Gallery in New York. Material dates from 1744 to 1973. Researchers may gain access to this collection by prior appointment. The Getty Provenance Database can also prove helpful.
Machinery and equipment
Catalogues of machinery of all kinds were acquired by the Patent Office Library, and the British Library's Science, Technology and Business department has continued this interest. A substantial collection of trade catalogues dating mainly between 1850 and 1940 exists, accessed through indexes held in the Business & IP Centre.
There are good holdings of pre-1913 sale catalogues of stamps and other philatelic material in the Crawford Collection (catalogued under the heading 'Auction Catalogues' in an edition of the Printed Catalogue of the British Library). See Catalogue of the Crawford Library of philatelic literature at the British Library (London, 1991).
Coins and Medals
A collection of sale catalogues relating to coins and medals can be found in storage shelfmarks: 603.h.4 - 7.
Numbers of literary prospectuses can be found in the following collections at the British Library:
- Book prospectuses dating 1803-5 from the library of Sir Joseph Banks [held in storage at: 899.h.1].
- Literary prospectuses, with newspaper cuttings etc., dating 1757-1853 and collected by James Maidment (1795?-1879), 2 vols. [held in storage at: 816.1.47].
- Prospectuses of books and periodicals dating 1791-1805, with a manuscript index [held in storage at: 11902.c.26].
- Prospectuses and publishers' catalogues, 1796-1842, 3 vols. with manuscript index to vol 1. [held in storage at: 11902.bbb.23].
- Prospectuses for 18th-century French journals, within the French Revolutionary Tracts [held in storage at: F.1561(18)].
In addition, the British Library also holds microfiche copies of some of the pre-1801 book prospectuses held by the Bodleian Library, Oxford. These are held in storage at: Mic.F.180. Further information can be found in J.P. Feather, Book prospectuses before 1801 in the John Johnson Collection (Oxford, 1976) [copy on open access in Rare Books and Music at: RAM094.0941].
The following collections are known to include catalogues of erotic materials:
- Prospectuses and advertisements for erotica in various languages collected by Dr Eric John Dingwall [held in storage at: P.C.16.m.l8].
- A similar collection of material dating from 1899 to 1929 [held in storage at: P.C.16.i.l].
- Prospectuses and catalogues of erotic and obscene books, pictures, and instruments, 1889-1929, collected by George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven (1892-1938) [held in storage at: Cup.364.g.48]; see Charles Franklin, They walked a crooked mile, (New York, 1972), pp. 121-65.
- Two bibliographical collections dating from c1890 onwards formed by Jeffrey Bruce Rund of New York: one of catalogues and lists (some in manuscript) of erotic literature [held in storage at: Cup.803.f.20]; the other of miscellaneous material [held in storage at: Cup.900.x.15].
Rare Books Reference Team
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