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The Albert Smith Archive - The Showman of Mont Blanc

18th March 2023

Lawrences Auctioneers recent book sale on the 16th March was one of the most successful provincial specialist book auctions to have been held this year.  Amongst the 325-lots were some great treasures. 

The archive of material relating to Albert Smith, the Victorian Alpinist and Performer, contained some unrepeatable items which came to the market for the first time, direct from the family.

It was from India that the two most eagerly contested lots originated, Emily Eden’s large-scale volume of twenty-four lithographed plates ‘Portraits of the Princes and Peoples of India’ from 1844 was much admired despite having a broken spine. It realised a price of £13,125 (inc BP) with interest from Indian and UK markets in equal measure. Presumably by a relative of Emily Eden’s, the handwritten journal that followed a few lots later was compiled in 1840 by J.H. Eden. Written for his ‘beloved’ in England, the journal described life in India and was illustrated by twenty-five pen and ink or watercolour images which, although not expertly undertaken, gave a charming insight into everyday life for this member of the Eden family. Achieving a hammer price of £22,500 (inc BP) both these items had been consigned from the same library and it is conceivable that they are now going their separate ways, after spending their existence on the same shelves.

The autograph writings of Kipling have appeared before on a number of occasions in Lawrence’s book auctions, and the offering in this sale comprised twenty-six letters written to a Captain Edward H. Bayly (occasionally written as Bayley) at various addresses including Teignmouth, the Royal Naval College, HMS Pelorus, HMS Aurora and others.  Offering as interesting an insight as Kipling always does, this collection of letters offered a fascinating glimpse into the relationship between the two men, achieving a price of £7,500, comfortably in excess of the estimate of £3,000 – 3,500. It was Captain Bayly’s own archive that appeared in the following lot, it included journals from some of the ships mentioned and some fascinating ephemeral items from his time in China. This made slightly more with a price of £8,125.

The highlight of the sale, certainly for the department head Matthew Denney, was the archive of material relating to Albert Smith. Few of us outside the relevant specialist fields will have come across Albert Smith before, but a writer he was well known in the Victorian period who wrote for many publications and even ran his own magazine ‘The Man in the Moon’ as a competitor to Punch. He is best known for having climbed Mt Blanc and the show that he put on in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly in London for a number of seasons told the story of this adventure. The archive which achieved a total of over £52,500 (inc BP) included his original lecture notes, publications, letters, and items of ephemera which had been kept by the family in wonderfully good condition. The scrolling Diorama gave us a glimpse of the Mt Blanc Show which was enjoyed by thousands of paying guests, including Queen Victoria and her family at Osborne House.

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