A coveted two-part copy of Miguel Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” fetched $536,689 at Sotheby’s France on Wednesday, according to The Guardian. Printed in Madrid in 1608 and 1615, it respectively comprised a third edition of book one and a first edition of book two.
“An opportunity such as this to acquire a pair of early editions, disappeared for so long and with shared provenance stretching back at least three centuries, is one that, for most collectors, appears only once in a lifetime,” Anne Heilbronn, head of books, told the outlet.
The books were originally procured by Jorge Ortiz Linares, who reportedly served as Bolivia’s ambassador to France after World War II, at London’s Maggs Bros. bookstore in 1936. He also snagged a 1613 edition of “Exemplary Stories,” which fetched $429,430.
“These texts belong to what Goethe called the ‘Weltliteratur’ in 1827, that is, works that everyone knows, that everyone lives, that everyone has heard of,” Jean-Baptiste de Proyart, an ancient books expert who investigated the copies for Sotheby’s, told El Pais, per a translation.
Linares lived in Paris at the time and collected “great Spanish works and those related to Latin America, but also great French works,” Heilbronn told The Guardian. Eager to own what many considered the first modern novel, he had traveled to London to find “Don Quixote.”
Linares arrived at Maggs Bros. only to be told the unique volumes had already been sold. He left his contact information, however, and received a phone call in 1936: “We have a copy for you, sir.” He bought the third edition for £100 and the first for £750.
“Don Quixote” centers on a provincial nobleman and his trusty squire Sancho Pansa from the region of La Mancha. Cervantes has been praised as inspiring Shakespeare and modern authors alike, with Quixote on a futile quest of chivalrous romance as he tilts at windmills and dies alone.
Proyart told The Guardian that the two editions were “one of the best possible combinations you can dream of.” He said having them both in a similar binding “even if it’s not the first edition of the first part” made the Linares batch “an absolute blue chip.”
The “Exemplary Stories” edition, meanwhile, was originally bound for Jerôme Bignon, the first librarian of King Louis XIV. Heilbronn said it was “one of the rarest texts by Cervantes.” Ultimately, these books were just three of 87 volumes auctioned by the Ortiz Linares library.
Perhaps most notable is that the third edition of book one still contained handwritten amendments from Cervantes on which mistakes to correct.
“The 1608 edition is the last one that’s checked and revised by Cervantes,” Proyart told The Guardian. “It’s the good version of the text. It’s something like a miracle to find a very precious book that hasn’t been on the market for over 70 years.”