STATUS: Previously Unpublished.

CAVEAT: Has not been subjected to peer review. Comments and sourced revisions welcomed.

The author prefers to remain anonymous, but was a former student at Red Hill School. To comment or propose revisions, please contact the PETT archivist, Craig Fees: craig (at)



The Library of the late Otto Leslie Shaw


Christie’s of South Kensington held sale BK/776/5 on Friday, June 10th, 1977 at 11.00 am and 2.00 pm. This note looks at the background to books, Shaw’s auction sales catalogue and Shaw’s interest in books generally.

The Background to Books

Books and book collecting have a long history. The history of books in the west is fairly well known and documentedi but becomes rather more fragmentary as time recedes. In China and the East, book history is less well known at least in western circles. Cuneiform clay tablets in Mesopotamia and inscriptions cut into stone in Egypt and elsewhere are not generally regarded as books, but early manuscripts usually are.

The origins of the novel have been traced back by literary archaeologists to the classic world; they give as examples Apuleius’s The Golden Ass and Petronius’s Satyriconii. Early manuscripts were copied by scribes, either as an additional text or as the original became worn and difficult to read. Copying damaged manuscripts lead to texts differing in minor aspects. Some manuscripts became lost, as in the fire at the library in Alexandria and others disappeared for reasons unknown, although the previous existence of the manuscript is recorded. The Order of St. Benedict, founded in AD 529, had rules governing the monastery and included an order requiring a certain number of hours each day to be spent in the scriptorium. It is thanks to the Benedictine monks and their scriptoria that many early manuscripts survived. Their manuscript copies of decaying originals became texts for the early printersiii.

The invention of moveable type in the middle of the fifteenth century made it possible for multiple copies of books to be produced and distributed. Early typefaces mimicked hand script. Nevertheless, books were still very expensive and not accessible to many people. University, Cathedral and Collegiate libraries could be well supplied. Multiple other factors also limited the production of books, including the lack of paper mills producing paperiv in adequate quantities, banning of certain books for religious reasons and difficulties with the wear on, and the production of, typefaces and the time taken to bind works

To own books was a sign of wealth and as well as increasing numbers of new books being published a second-hand market grew, which gave rise to the opportunity for individuals to own and collect a few books and later large quantities of books. Many of the bookcases of books visible in stately homes open to the public today are filled with early and late nineteenth century books bound individually by craft bookbinders from specialised binderiesv. Their owners were aristocrats and rich industrialists with money to spare, who wished to demonstrate their wealth and give the impression of erudition.

From the beginning of the twentieth century onwards, book collectors fall very broadly into two categories viz. poseurs and researchers. Otto Leslie Shaw falls into the first category.

The Catalogue

The catalogue for the ”Sale of Books from the Library of the late Otto Leslie Shaw” on Friday, June 10, 1977 is rather low-key in comparison with the Christies’ sales catalogues generally. It is octavo in format and printed in monotone albeit with 8 illustrated plates. The catalogue may have been put together in a hurry. Collation was not included in the descriptions, but if any item was found defective within seven days of the sale, it could be returned with the defect stated in writing. There was also a long list of exceptions to the right of returnvi, which surely made it desirable for potential purchasers to inspect books at the public viewing before a bid was placed. Also, there is no statement as to what happens on a valid return, but presumably the sale price was refunded. Proofreading was not as good as we have come to expect of Christie’s catalogues in recent years.

The Books

Christie’s categorised the three hundred and twenty-four lots as follows: Topography, Natural History and Coloured Plate books (lots 1 -101), English Illustrated and Children’s Books (lots 102-172), Private Presses (10 private presses get their own sections, lots 173-232) and Bibliography and Art Reference books (lots 233-324) make up the total sale.

Three works date from the eighteenth century, an 1841 History and Antiquities of Maidstone, the County Town of Kent with a repaired frontispiece and a detached front cover: a two volume New Dictionary of Natural History dated 1785 with repairs to the binding of the first volume and a 12 volume History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent with a few tears and cracks to the extremities of the binding dated 1797-1801 (lots 15, 10 and 6 respectively). 103 lots are books published before 1900, 136 published from 1900 to 1950 and the remainder published in 1951 and after.

The total lots were expected to bring between £11,916, lower estimate and £17,378, upper estimate. Updated for price inflationvii, the amounts would now be about £65,000 to £95,000, which is a substantial sum. The total number of books included in the catalogue is unclear, but it is more than 1,800 including multiple books in lots where the numbers are stated. Lot 46 consists of 36 volumes of illustrated books “together with a stack of books in three tea chests. (A lot)”. Who knows the subject matters of these works valued by Shaw but treated as little more than trash by the auctioneers?

Lot 268 by Eduard Fuchs is Illustrierte Sittengeschichteviii (Illustrated customs, but is translated by some as Sexual Customs Illustrated) in three volumes with 3 volumes of supplements 1909-1912. It is currently available for purchase on the internet at US$ 458, with multiple coloured and black and white plates, illustrations and photographs totalling more than 2,000ix in all. The following lot, number 269, by the same author has two more erotic volumes, one on women in caricature (Die Frau in Karikatur) and the other on erotic art (Erotischen Kunst), and also one on the Jews in caricature (Die Juden in Karikatur…). These are also available currently for purchase on the internet at about the same price as the earlier lotx. I forget who it was who said that rich man’s pornography is called art, but perhaps Shaw’s interest was in the typography or the processes to create (possibly lithographic or collotypes for the plates) the coloured illustrations.

There is a good number of books illustrated by Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway. Beatrix Potter and Randolf Caldecott, inter alia, are representedxi. Intellectual stimulation is provided by thirty-one volumes of The Library, the journal of the Bibliographical Societyxii and British Museum catalogues.

Viewed as a whole and by the standards of the day, Shaw’s books are representative of what an educated man might collect then and are a credit to Mr Guntrip, a provincial bookseller of Maidstone, who gave advice on potential purchases to Shaw.

What of Shaw’s books on child psychology the study of which gave Shaw his living? Lot 82 is “about 30 vol.” on psychology and child development and none are worth a separate mention. They are priced as a single lot at between £10 and £15. If Shaw had seen the market’s view of his working books, he may have found it cruel.

Through today’s eyes

Book collecting goes in fashions, like antiques, and yesterday’s expensive treasures are sometimes today’s commonplace, not sought after and are correspondingly inexpensive. The introduction of internet search engines and the ready availability of some complete texts on websites are changing the situation, which currently is in a state of flux. Nevertheless, there is much in the collection that would have held its worth today, particularly some of the children’s illustrators and private press books. The Kelmscott Chaucer printed by William Morris is believed by some to be the finest book since the revival of printing, and possibly going right back to the Gutenberg Biblexiii. Lamentably, Shaw’s Kelmscott Press books do not include this volume. He did have as two lots, however, the Kelmscott printing of Rossetti’s Ballads and Poems (1893) and Sonnets and Lyrical Poems (1894), which can be found in two volumes for sale today at US $8,838, bound by Rivière in the Doves stylexiv.

Without an inordinate amount of trouble, it is not possible to get a good idea of what it would cost to purchase this collection at current prices, but my impression is that the collection has held its own in real price terms.

But… Mysteries

As mentioned earlier, Shaw’s collection contains only three antiquarian works, if the year 1800 is regarded as the dividing line. One of these is on Kent (Hasted in 12 volumes), one about Maidstone (William Newton of 1741) and the other Martyn’s A New Dictionary of Natural History of 1785.

What happened to the small illuminated manuscript volume for which he told one of his pupils he paid £300 in the late 1940s? Could it have been a facsimilexv of no particular value included in a tea chest in the sale? If it was the real thing, did Shaw sell it at a later time or was it removed from the library for retention by his heirs?

What happened to first edition of Eikon Basilike, which it was reported a pupil tried to remove from Shaw’s study and reacted on being unsuccessful by putting Shaw’s photograph into a toilet seat and leaving the seat outside the study doorxvi? Was this a worthless facsimile too?


Note by E. Sutton-Hill (pseudonym)

June 2016.

Since writing this piece, further research has shown that O L Shaw owned at one time a copy of Vita et processus Sancti Thomae Cantuariensis (translates roughly as “Life and work of Thomas à Becket”) printed by Johann Phillipi (Paris) 27 March 1495. Shaw submitted a letter to the Editor of The Book Collector for publication in the September 1963 edition on a bibliographical point in respect of this book. A copy of this book, with another work bound in, was offered for sale by Bernard Quaritch Ltd. at the 47th California Book Fair in Pasadena in February 2014. At this time, the two works together were priced at US $30,600 (£18,000).


i# Putnam, Geo.Haven Putnam’s Books and their Makers during the Middle Ages, GP Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, New York and London, second edition 1896, volume 1 476-1600 and volume 2 1500-1700 is a good general detailed source, although it is possible that later research has uncovered other material.


ii# Sutherland, John in The Times Saturday April 16th 2016 page 26.


iii# Putnam loc cit volume 1 page 12.


iv# The first paper mill “in Christendom” was at Fabriano in Italy about the year 1270. Source: Seán Jennett, The Making of Books, Faber and Faber, fourth edition, 1967 page 157.


v# Middleton, Bernard, A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique, Holland Press, 1963 and later editions give information on the growth of wholesale binderies in Appendix iii pp 263-268. Brade, Ludwig and Winkler, Emil Das Illustrierte Buchbinderbuch (The illustrated Bookbinding Book), Otto Spamer publisher, Leipzig, 1860 give illustrations of craft bookbinding machines and tools used in industrialised factory bookbinding and on the first page illustration there are workers engaged in their own specialised part of the processes.


vi#These exceptions to the right to return are expressed as follows: ”This proviso shall not apply to defects stated in the catalogue, nor to absence of blanks, half-titles or advertisements, damage in respect of bindings, stains, spotting, marginal tears, or other defects not affecting completeness of text and illustration; not to periodicals, autographs letters and manuscripts, music, map, and drawings; not to lots sold for less than £30.”


vii# The Retail Price Index was 47.8 for 1977 and 260.6 for 2015, giving a multiplier of about 5.5. Using the Consumer Prices Index, the mathematical basis of which is controversial, would give a lower figure. Book prices may actually have increased at a different rate but I have not found an appropriate index.


viii# Shaw had only very limited French language skills but no German language capability at all as far as I recall.


ix# Total illustrations are 430+429+500+265+280+367=2271 in total.


x# Many old books with booksellers’ descriptions can be found amongst the millions of books in many languages for sale on the website in the section devoted to out of print books.


xi# As are Chaucer, Casanova, A Conan Doyle, James Joyce, R L Stevenson, Aubrey Beardsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Siegfried Sassoon, Salvador Dali and Francis Meynell and others.


xii# The Society’s website ( describes its activities as “The Bibliographical Society was founded in 1892 to promote and encourage study and research in historical, analytical, descriptive and textual bibliography.  Since then its scope has widened to include the making and use of manuscripts, the history of printing, publishing and illustration, the study of bookbinding, and the history of the book, as well as the history of libraries and the study of provenance, readership, and book collecting. Members’ interests extend to every part of the world and to all periods.” Its Journal is written in easy to understand English, but sometimes the admirable attention to minute detail can be tedious for laymen without experience or special interest in the field being discussed.


xiii# Copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer are currently for sale on the internet from US $80,000 downwards.


xiv# Bromer Booksellers of Boston, MA, USA.


xv# It would have been hardly possible for a boy of little experience in books to recognise a facsimile for what it was.


xvi# Page 11 of Otto L Shaw’s A Brief Study of Re-educational Factors in a Progressive Boarding School for Delinquent Children and Adolescents. 1945.