Keele book inquiry 'whitewash'

December 24, 1999

Your report that "Keele inquiry deems rare book sale proper" (For the record, THES, December 10) invites the rejoinder "Well they would, wouldn't they?"

Regarding whether Keele got a good price or not, I have just completed a survey of rare book catalogues in the past year, notably at the Antiquarian Book Fair in June. I found 44 books offered for sale, of which the Turner collection had the same edition. The sale price of these 44 items was Pounds 444,515. (Some of these items were offered in two places and I took the average price. In one of these cases, one example offered was the actual Turner example and I used that price rather than the other, as the Turner example was slightly defective. I am told that at least five other items are known to be Turner examples.)

It is now thought by some collectors that the mysterious American buyer is Paul Allen, Bill Gates's original partner in founding Microsoft and the purchaser of the Archimedes palimpsest. Discussion at the fair and with dealers and collectors in New York indicates that only a selection of the best items from the Turner collection went to Allen and that the bulk of the collection is awaiting sale. Keele maintains that it got a fair price, but I think the dealers involved are laughing all the way to the bank.

David Singmaster

London SW4

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