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Rare manuscript sells for £70,000 at Wisbech auction

A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown has sold for £70,200 at a Wisbech auction.

The books were from the estate of Wisbech antique dealer Peter Croft, of Elm High Road, and bought by a private buyer, underbid by a London-based book dealer.

The two volume manuscript included in Sworders’ auction of Books and Maps in Stansted Mountfitchet was used from the 16th to the19th century by landowners in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The rare book (58955579)
The rare book (58955579)

A favourite delicacy for the banqueting table, the swan has been deemed a royal bird from the Middle Ages.

All swans flying free on open and common waters were deemed the property of the crown and only the monarch could grant the privilege of owning a ‘game’ of swans to individuals or institutions.

All such birds had to be marked and pinioned to assist in any dispute over ownership, or for swan upping, the annual overseeing of the marking of the new cygnets.

The rare book (58955581)
The rare book (58955581)

A Swan-Master was appointed both to care for the royal swans and to oversee and regulate swan-keeping throughout England. He was assisted by deputies with responsibility for a specific and manageable region.

The manuscript included in Sworders’ sale references the ‘Hundred of Wisbech’ in Norfolk and Suffolk. The first volume, dated 1566, contains over 600 marks, followed by 19 pages of manuscript notes concerning the ‘Laws and Ordinances regarding swan’.

The names start with the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, on to the Bishop of Ely and the Dean of York and finish with wealthy landowners.

The second volume is dated 1834 and includes notes on swan marks followed by 84 pages of swan marks and an index of owners.

The rare book (58955573)
The rare book (58955573)

A similar manuscript was sold by Christies in 1999. This one, from the estate of Wisbech dealer Peter Croft, was guided at £8,000-16,000.

Other sale highlights included two first edition sets of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. One set, signed by JRR Tolkien made £33,800 while the other took £11,000.

Tolkien’s epic fantasy set in Middle earth began as a sequel to his 1937 children’s book The Hobbit but eventually developed into a much larger work.

The rare book (58955577)
The rare book (58955577)

Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings was – for reasons of economics – published over the course of just over a year from July 29, 1954 to October 20, 1955 in three volumes titled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

The trilogy has since been reprinted many times but the copies offered for sale from two different sources were all first editions printed during the relatively narrow 1954-55 window. The copy signed by the author was well used, with occasional tears, small losses stains and tape repairs. The original owner’s father had been at Oxford the same time as Tolkien and had asked him to sign them.

The other set of the three books, that came from a private collection, were unsigned but were first edition, first impression copies with maps and dust jackets. As an unread set, they are exceptionally rare.

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