‘Treasure Trove’ of Rare Books Is Expected to Sell for More Than $25M

Touching on art, architecture and Renaissance ideals, an upcoming series of Sotheby's auctions represents a "momentous event in the book world."

Bibliotheca Brookeriana, one of the world’s most significant collections of rare books, will see its 1,600 titles sold by Sotheby's in the next two years, as announced by the auction house today (August 10). With sales kicking off this fall, the library is expected to fetch more than $25 million in total.

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Row of old-looking books placed on wooden table
The vast collection will be sold in eight auctions. Courtesy of Sotheby's

Filled with a convergence of art, architecture and knowledge from the Renaissance period, the collection has bindings that are nearly as distinguished as each book’s contents. The tomes are decorated with medallions, mottoes and the initials or armorial insignia of early owners, many of whom were noblemen or kings. One volume was originally owned by Palo Giordano Orsini, the first duke of Bracciano who was suspected of murdering both his wife Isabella de’ Medici and the husband of his mistress Vittoria Accoramboni.

The collection is an “unparalleled treasure trove,” according to Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, who in a statement described the upcoming sales as “a momentous event in the book world and a celebration of the spirit that has inspired book collectors and connoisseurs for centuries.” Many of the individual titles, which have estimates ranging from $200 to $600,000, were previously sold by Sotheby’s as far back as 1817.

Older man dressed in suit sits in leather chair in library
T. Kimball Brooker has been a bibliophile for more than 60 years. Courtesy of Sotheby's

The library was assembled by T. Kimball Brooker, a scholar who has collected early printed books for more than six decades. Former managing director at Morgan Stanley and current president of the Chicago-based Barbara Oil Company, Brooker earned a bachelor’s degree in French literature from Yale, an MBA at Harvard Business School and a master’s degree in art history at the University of Chicago, where he later established a prize encouraging book collecting among students.

“Collecting the books to be offered in this series of sales has been an enduring source of satisfaction and enjoyment,” said Brooker in a statement, adding that the volumes have “provided the material for much groundbreaking scholarly research on renaissance printing and bookbinding.”

The collection will be sold in eight auctions over the next two years

The series of sales will begin with an inaugural sale scheduled for October 11 following a public exhibition of the collection at Sotheby’s New York galleries. The first auction will feature 90 lots, including a copy of architect Sebastiano Serlio’s green-goatskin-bound Terzo Libro and Regole generali di architettura. With an estimate of $400,000, the former title was dedicated to Francois I, King of France in the sixteenth century. Other listings include an early manuscript of Leonardo da Vinci’s treatise on painting, complete with 375 chapters and 56 ink drawings, which has a $180,000 estimate.

Sotheby's employee holds open book showing text and image of dolphin wrapped around anchor
Aldines are known for the publisher’s symbol of a dolphin and anchor. Courtesy of Sotheby's

A second auction on October 12 will be the series’ first sale dedicated to Aldine editions, a name given to books published by Aldine Press, a printing office started by Aldus Manutius in 1494 in Venice. Aldines, which Brooker began collecting in the mid-1960s, are renowned for introducing printed italics and small format books, which some consider to be the precursors of current-day paperbacks. The printing office also helped revive interest in the ideals of the Renaissance through its publishing of Greek and Latin classics.

With the largest grouping of Aldines to come to the market in 100 years, Bibliotheca Brookeriana’s collection has an estimated value of $10 million. With around 1,000 volumes published from the 1490s to the 1590s, the collection is the largest in existence, surpassing those held at institutions like the Morgan Library and Museum in New York and the University of California, Los Angeles. After Sotheby’s holds the October sales, the auction house will sell the rest of the vast library in auctions in New York and London through 2025.

‘Treasure Trove’ of Rare Books Is Expected to Sell for More Than $25M