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'The Superb Lily', one of the flower plates from a near complete copy of Robert John Thornton’s 'New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus', which sold for $27,500 ($36,025 with buyer's premium) at Freeman’s Hindman.

Robert John Thornton’s ‘Temple of Flora’ and Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’ were top sellers at Freeman’s Hindman

CHICAGO — Robert John Thornton’s New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus – better known as the Temple of Flora – is one of the grandest and most sumptuous of all English botanical books. Modestly estimated at $10,000-15,000, a near complete large folio copy sold for $27,500 ($36,025 with buyer’s premium) as part of the sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts at Freeman’s Hindman in Chicago on June 7.

Writing in the 1975 publication Great Books and Book Collectors, author Alan Thomas compared the production of the Temple of Flora to the state-sponsored books of ancient regime and empire France. “What Redouté produced under the patronage of L’Héritier, Marie Antoinette, the Empress Josephine, Charles X and the Duchesse de Berry, Thornton set out to do alone,” he comments.

Conceived on a grandiose scale, the whole comprises three parts: a dissertation on the sexual reproductive cycle of plants; an explanation of Linnaeus’s classification system, illustrated with botanical plates and portraits of botanists; and ‘The Temple of Flora’, comprising large plates of exotic plant species provided by a host of leading artists and engravers of the day. The protracted process of issue from 1799 to 1807 caused Thornton’s ruin.

This Chicago copy, disbound but retaining the original neoclassical burgundy morocco covers, contained all the text leaves and engravings in part I and II and all but one of the plates in part III. Only the famous image of Tulips, so often removed for framing, was absent.

As Thornton’s finances unraveled, he hit upon the idea of recouping the losses he had incurred during the production of the folio work by offering smaller editions as fourth-level prizes in a lottery (the original drawings for the project were the first prize). The so-called Lottery Edition of 1812, titled Temple of Flora, or Garden of the Botanist, Poet, Painter, and Philosopher, features reduced copies of all the plates plus one new illustration, titled Artichoke Protea. A copy offered in the June 7 auction in original boards took $7,000 ($9,170 with buyer’s premium).

A 1778 second printing of Adam Smith’s classic An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was consigned for sale by descent from the family of inventor Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922). It carried his book plate and had been at Beinn Bhreagh Hall, Bell’s summer estate in Nova Scotia, Canada, since its acquisition. Once considered a straight reprint, the 1778 second edition of Wealth of Nations in fact contains a number of alterations. Only 500 copies were printed, and it remains the only other early quarto edition apart from the first. With its provenance, this copy in modern morocco took $11,000 ($14,410 with buyer’s premium).

Leading the Chicago sale was a 1937 first edition in the publisher’s dust jacket of Zora Neale Hurston’s best-known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God. A classic of the Harlem Renaissance, the novel slid into obscurity for decades but was ‘rediscovered’ in the 1970s as universities across the US developed Black Studies programs. In 1978, when a new edition was issued, 75,000 copies sold out in less than a month. This fine edition, which was consigned from a collection in Atlanta, Georgia, was estimated at $10,000-$15,000 and hammered for $30,000 ($39,300 with buyer’s premium).

One of the very first Hugo awards presented to author, agent, publisher, and general science fiction fanatic Forrest J. Ackerman (1916-2008) sold at $9,500 ($12,445 with buyer’s premium). The award for being the ‘#1 Fan Personality’ was one of seven issued at the 11th World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia on September 5-7, 1953.

At the time the awards, which were named after ‘father of the genre’ Jugo Gernsback, founder of the magazine Amazing Stories, were conceived as a one-off event. However, they proved so popular that organizers, having skipped handing them out during the 12th WorldCon, reinstated them in 1955 and thereafter made them a tradition. Today they are widely considered the premier award in sci-fi writing.