A Survivor of a Fatal Sale
Catalogue of the Extensive, Genuine, and highly Valuable Collection of Pictures, late the Property of the Hon. John Clerk of Eldin, one of the Senators of the College of Justice…which will be Unreservedly sold by Auction by Messrs Thomas Winstanley & Sons (of Liverpool), at No. 16, Picardy Place, Edinburgh, on Thursday the 14th of March 1833, and thirteen following days…
Folding engraved frontis. & five engraved plates. 2 p.l., 2, 32 pp., , 33-103. 8vo, cont. half-sheep & marbled boards (rejointed & extremities rubbed), spine gilt. Edinburgh: Printed by J. Hutchison, .
A famous sale with fatal results; it is clear that this copy survived the collapse of the floor on which the sale was held. John Clerk, Lord Eldin (1757–1832), was one of the leading Scottish lawyers of his time; “he acquired so extensive a practice that, it is said, at one period of his career he had nearly half the business of the court in his hands. As a pleader he was remarkable, both for his acuteness and for his marvellous powers of reasoning, as well as for his fertility of resource. Possessed of a rough, sarcastic humour, he delighted in ridiculing the bench, and was in the habit of saying whatever he liked to the judges without reproof.”–ODNB. He was appointed a judge in 1823.
Clerk accumulated immense collections of paintings, engravings, drawings, china, bronzes, terra cotta, coins, and books. Upon his death, his collections were sold by auction at his house in March of 1833. On the third day of the auction of his estate, the floor collapsed, due to overcrowding and the poor construction of Clerk’s house, killing one person and injuring a number of other bidders and spectators, all of whom fell 16 feet to the floor below. With this catalogue we are able to deduce that the floor caved in somewhere between lot 118 and lot 168 due to the wear and few tears on these particular pages of the catalogue.
Clerk was a bachelor with a penchant for the fine arts and devoted much of his leisure time either to drawing or adding to his considerable collections. His consulting room was said to be “overrun by his collection of art, literature, and animals [with] all manner of trash, dead and living, and all in confusion.” He possessed paintings, prints, and drawings by Rembrandt, Holbein, Rubens, Dürer, Breughel, along with many other old masters. Additionally, Clerk had amassed “a most extensive and exceptional” collection of 55 volumes with hundreds of architectural drawings by Robert Adam, which he had inherited from his mother, Susannah, sister of the celebrated Adam brothers, the architects (pp. 75-6).
The five plates and the frontispiece in the first catalogue are reproductions of items in Clerk’s collection, including “The Adoration of the Magi.”
Nice copy. Ownership inscription of “George Anderson 142 High Street,” a bookseller in Forres, Elginshire in the early 20th century. On page 2, a printed slip with additional information has been pasted over the final paragraph: “It may be added that the Catalogue of the Pictures and Prints was drawn up by Messrs W. & S. Woodburn of St. Martin’s Lane, London; and that the Outline Etchings which accompany the Catalogue, are by Mr. Walter Grinke of this city.”
Item ID: 6044