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Reports by the Juries brings £180,000 at auction

One of fifteen sets of the Reports by the Juries (1852) given by the Commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851 to William Henry Fox Talbot and presented by him to his daughter Matilda sold at auction in London today for £216,000 including buyer's premium (£180,000 hammer price). The successful bidder was the London-based dealer, author and collector of middle eastern photography Badr El-Hage. El-Hage, who is known to have close links with several museums and collectors in the Middle East, was presumably buying the four volume set on behalf of a client.

Bidding on the lot, which was estimated at a very modest £20,000-30,000, opened at £16,000 with commission bids and then it quickly became a bidding battle between a seated and relaxed El-Hage and a nervous tall gentleman standing close by him at the back of the auction room. The standing gent was taking instructions via a mobile phone. One telephone line was also open.

El-Hage entered the bidding early on battling with the standing gentleman who looked to have it within his grasp at £150,000 before El-Hage, returned at £160,000. The standing man paused, hands shaking, and asked his caller whether he wanted to carry on. For a fraction of a second the lot appeared to be his at £170,000. El-Hage, with no hesitation, then bid again taking the price to t £180,000. The standing man asked his caller if he wished to bid and then stopped at that point. El-Hage raised his bidding number 795 and the auctioneer brought his hammer down. The lot had sold.

The four volume set which contained some of the strongest calotype prints in any set I have seen will require an export licence. As there are other sets in the UK - albeit without the particular Talbot provenance - this is unlikely to present any great hurdle. There are sets in, for example, the British Library, at the National Media Museum and in the University of London's Senate House. Furthermore, there are, presumably, still sets in the hands of descendents or passed to libraries from the 115 recipients presented with copies back in 1852 and some more of the 15 sets that Talbot was awarded - although it is likely that the full quota was never completed.

There have been two relatively recent sales: in 2001 Christie's sold a set with medals, originally presented to Lt. Crossman RE for £64,250 (including premium) and in 2007 a set formerly from the Fred Spira Collection, originally presented to John Gott, sold for €75,600 (inc premium) approx £45,200.


A link to the original BPH blog report which includes a link through to the full catalogue description is here:

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Comment by Roger Taylor on June 7, 2011 at 20:39

A revealing report on one of the most important photographically illustrated books of the 19th century and one, as bibliophile of the Great Exhibition, have always taken a close interest. In my opinion it ranks alongside the "Pencil of Nature" for the scope of its ambition and the quality of its production.....nothing else comes close. It is fitting therefore that it commanded such a high price though in part this surely comes from its direct links to W H F Talbot as one of the fifteen sets he was presented by the 1851 Royal Commissioners, who incidentally are still active in London....see website.

Another set, presented by Talbot to his cousin "Kit Talbot" is in the Kodak Museum collection at the National Media Museum.

For anyone interested in the troubled genesis of these volumes see chapter 3  "Impressed By Light"  

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