The Wonder of Wisdens

May 25, 2016

It is rather remarkable when you think about it that the 153rd edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack was published last month by Bloomsbury.


The ‘cricketer’s bible’ started life as an 116-page pamphlet produced by retired bowler John Wisden (known as ‘The Little Wonder’ due to his short stature), to promote his sporting goods and tobacco business. (The link between sports, advertising and the wicked weed goes back a long time.)  If he knew that the little yellow book bearing his name was still being published – in basically the same format, though rather chunkier –  a century and a half later he’d be bowled over.

And what would he make of an auction price of £8,400 achieved in recent years for one of those first 1864 Wisdens (cover price: one shilling)?

Most ventures into sporting annuals last a few editions and die – the periodical published by Wisden’s principal commercial rivals, the Lillywhite family, did not make it beyond 1900.


An 1864 First Edition,  from

Wisden has overseen the boom times and the lean years for the summer game with an independent eye. The fluctuating number of pages reflect the fluctuating appetites of the sporting public, the national mood and economic fortunes.

The suspension of First Class cricket during the years of World War I meant that the Almanack for 1916 could report only on school cricket – but crucially Wisden stayed alive.  At 229 pages it is the slimmest edition since 1882 (the 2016 Wisden comes in at 1,552 pages).

Many of them are given over to reporting death.  Greats of the game W.G. Grace, A.E. Stoddart and the Australian batsman Victor Trumper were not killed in the service of their King and Country. But a long alphabetical list of young men that follows, schoolboy and university cricketers, bears tragic witness to the first full year of conflict in 1915.


A 1916 Wisden (53rd Edition)

One name that leaps from the page is Sub-Lieutenant Rupert C. Brooke (Royal Naval Division).  His six-line notice records a leading bowling average of 14.05 for the Rugby School XI and concludes with the famously pithy sentence: “He had gained considerable reputation as a poet”.

The precise intentions of the Editor, Sydney H. Pardon, are debated by Wisden historians.

My listing of Cricketana – including a very rare 1916 Wisden – can be viewed here:  Cricket 2016


Jasper Jennings Antique Prints are delighted to invite you to visit our Stand K09 at The London International Antiquarian Book Fair which takes place at Olympia on 22nd – 24th May 2014.

Please click the following link to register for complimentary tickets:

For more information about the fair, please visit

If you would like us to send you tickets in the post, please let us know.

Hope to see y’all there!

Printed on the Ice

February 6, 2014

In the days before photo-journalism, the prints I encounter often served as a visual report of an event – and now of course serve as valuable records for the modern historian.

But what people like me really love is handling prints with a direct and (literally) tangible connection to a particular occasion, or historical personality.

And personally, I would love to uncover a souvenir of one of the Thames ‘Frost Fairs’. They are such an evocative echo of a lost London.


The dear old River Thames froze over 16 times between 1683 and 1814. The spontaneous community celebrations held on the ice when temperatures plummeted provided a great escape from the drudgery of London’s coldest winters.

Many fair-goers bought souvenirs from printers who temporarily set up presses in tents on the ice to commemorate the occasion. These often consisted of fairly crude woodcuts or engraved designs personalised with the customer’s letterpress name (and sometimes age); crucially for historians they were usually dated.

Those few that survive, with their charmingly naïve, folk-arty depictions of crowds, booths and games – often featuring a famous London landmark – deserve to be more widely appreciated.

So I am pleased to note there is a Frost Fair exhibition at the Museum in Docklands running until 30th March. A good introduction to the subject is provided by the British Library’s Untold lives blog.

As you can imagine, Frost Fair souvenirs are highly collectable – those four little words ‘Printed on the Ice’ command a hefty premium. Financial considerations aside, I am transported instantly to the crisp, chill air and smell of hot spiced gingerbread.

Australasian Odyssey

January 17, 2014

Please forgive the extended break between posts dear reader, I have been travelling in the Antipodes over the festive season. The dual purpose was a family wedding in Sydney and to lend my support to England’s cricketers; the less said about the exploits of our flannelled fools on the field the better.

Naturally I found some consolation in the company of a few select antiquarian printsellers.

A four day stop-over in Singapore yielded ample opportunity to visit that island nation’s sole ABA representative: Antiques of the Orient, in Tanglin Shopping Centre. Owner Ms. Julie Yeo was on hand to introduce me to an impressive stock of early views of the former British East India company trading post. Her company has published a number of scholarly reference works which have become indispensable collector’s guides to historical images of South East Asia.

No visit to Sydney would be complete for the bibliophile without a trip to Hordern House. Their impressive and wholly-suitable 19th century townhouse premises on Victoria Street was undergoing redecoration when I rang the doorbell on spec, and, though closed, Derek McDonnell kindly allowed me a peek at the main showrooms. Highlights in a high-calibre stock included an aquatint of Sydney Cove published a few years after the then British penal colony on the edge of the world was founded.

My eye was drawn to a cricket print I’d almost kill to own, hanging in a stairwell: a lithograph of the second-ever (more successful) English touring side playing on the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground, published in 1864 in Melbourne by Charles Troedel.

In the suburb of Kensington, to the south of the Sydney Cricket Ground, is situated the large and airy showroom of Josef Lebovic. His eclectic stock showcases a range of printmaking, both European and Australian, and encompases caricatures, Victorian genre, twentieth century etchings, elegant inter-war travel posters, and early photographs of Australian Aborigines and settlers.

On my way home to Blightly I stopped at Hong Kong. I simply had to potter down Hollywood Road, past dozens of antique shops, to the emporium of Jonathan Wattis. Over a coffee Jonathan and his charming wife showed me their fascinating display of early photographs of this one-time British outpost in Asia.

“They might as well be photographs of the moon”, quipped Jonathan. And he’s right. The sepia images I inspected, landscapes of lush vegetation dotted with pleasant-looking European-style villas, bore no resemblance to the overcrowded high-rise ‘entrepôt’ that confronts the modern visitor.

All four of the businesses featured have over a period of many years established reputations of integrity and expertise among the more enquiring minds within their respective communities. At a time of rapid development and change in all their territories, when a sense of place and identity are arguably more important than ever, let us hope that they – and others striving to engage people with their heritage – continue to thrive.

May I wish all my loyal subscribers a very happy and prosperous 2014.

Before The Ashes

August 21, 2013

Talking of photographs (see previous post ‘The photographer’s art’), a print to truly capture the imagination was offered at T. Vennett-Smith’s cricket memorabilia auction on Wednesday 14th August.

Lot 962 was a sepia team photograph from the 1868 Australian Aboriginal cricket tour to Britain. Ten Aborigines and two white men (one of whom clearly not dressed for action) are posed in front of an anonymous marquee.


According to a source quoted in the only book that I know of to comprehensively describe this remarkable tour (first published in Melbourne in 1967), the players are about to take the field at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, in August 1868. The European standing at the centre is the Englishman Charles Lawrence, a fine all-round cricketer who had been coaching the Aborigines back in Australia, and who regularly turned out for the team during the tour. His teammates have been identified also.

Inscribed simply ‘Australian Eleven 1868’ to the mount below, the auctioneer’s estimate of £250 – 350 on such a desirable lot was always going to be left far behind. The successful bid it turned out was £1,650.

In the midst of the Fifth Ashes Test at The Oval, many cricket fans who have grown up with the historic rivalry between England and her Antipodean cousins are still unaware that the first cricket team from Australia to tour these islands was composed not of white Europeans (that happened a decade later), but of men from western Victoria who could claim an ancestry on that far away continent of thousands of years.

As for the cricket itself, in an intensive – not to say punitive – schedule, what was effectively a thirteen-man playing squad contested 47 matches in four-and-a-half months across the length and breadth of the land. The Aborigines won 14 and lost 14. British crowds flocked to see the “black cricketers from Australia”, and paid good money to do so, but the human cost was high. Incidents of illness among the Aboriginal cricketers in this alien environment, both mental and physical, were a constant concern, and one player, known as King Cole, would never return to Australia. He died from a lung problem in Guy’s Hospital.

Contemporary images of this tour hardly ever come onto the market, and as one might imagine, the appeal of this evocative photograph far exceeds the boundary of the cricket field. Not only collectors of cricketana and sports historians, but buyers interested in Australian Aboriginal history, and indeed ethnologists around the world, must surely desire this souvenir of one of the more remarkable cross-cultural exchanges in the history of two nations.

A Sporting Chance?

October 15, 2012

At the end of this month Christie’s South Kensington will present an important collection of British sporting books and prints when the Le Vivier Library goes under the hammer. The results of the sale should prove a revealing indicator of the general health of this idiosyncratic market.

The first 100 lots or so are devoted to the prolific sporting painter-printmaker Henry Thomas Alken (1785 – 1851).   Even if the name is not immediately familiar, you will almost certainly have encountered Alken’s work, if you have ever sought refuge in a country inn, or indeed visited any country house worth its salt. His scenes of social life and leisure in rural 19th century England, in his distinctive, almost caricature style, have been reproduced in countless editions over the decades, and are ubiquitous.

The Le Vivier sale undoubtedly represents the most significant collection of Alken’s works to be sold for many a year; most show fox hunting and horse racing, the equestrian subjects that were his particular passion, but there are some fine shooting and other scenes. His books, narrative sets of prints, and scrolling panoramas are all hand-coloured early issues, usually in fine condition, in presentation bindings or original wrappers, boxes/cases etc.

I have often wondered, perhaps because we have been almost saturated by his output, whether we British take Henry Alken for granted. A keen huntsman himself, his empathy with his subject, and with some of the sporting characters he depicted, is vividly apparent. The quality of his draughtsmanship, combining tricky elements of human and animal form into his bold compositions, should not be underestimated. He has fallen in and out of fashion on these shores but has consistently found a receptive audience abroad, on the Continent and in America, in important collections such as Paul Mellon’s.

The Christie’s sale proceeds to books and prints on field sports by other authors and artists, the emphasis remaining on the horse; Herring and Pollard are among the names represented. There are also a good number of early illustrated publications, most notably the ‘Book of Hawking’ from c. 1518 (lot 137). This is by far the most expensive lot with an estimate of £80,000-120,000.  Markham’s ‘Young Sportsman’s Instructor in Angling, Fowling’ etc. is a miniature book published in 1705, estimated at £10,000-15,0000, and is the most important angling item in the sale. Also on offer is a very choice selection of 30 or so cricket books (lots 254-283), followed by a small section of miscellaneous sports (284-296).

Quality examples of this golden age of British sporting printmaking would have been keenly contested in the salerooms not so long ago. 20th century peaks of interest occurred between the two world wars and in the 1980s. When I started in this business a little more than a decade ago, I can remember a select group of prominent collectors ready to bid serious money to acquire fine coloured aquatints. In 2012 we live in uncertain times; the connoisseurs seem to be selling off their collections rather than adding to them (witness the Norman Bobins sale last year). The Italian trade have mostly stopped buying this sort of material, and decorators are looking elsewhere for inspiration. Perhaps the sensitivities of their clients have changed in the wake of the anti-hunting legislation of the Blair government.

I for one hope that the talent of artists like Alken to illuminate the character of the British at play continues to find admirers.

Catalogue online at

Enquiries: Rupert Neelands (

Origins of Golf

May 14, 2012

The historic ‘Allan’ gutta percha ball

On 30th May in London Christie’s will auction what they are billing as “the most important private collection of golf art and memorabilia ever assembled”.

Presenting an unprecedented selection of historic clubs, balls, paintings, ceramics and books, the collection of Jaime Ortiz-Patina, the founder of the Valderrama Golf Club, is expected to realise in excess of £2 million.

Art highlights include the preparatory oil sketch for arguably the most famous painting in the history of golf. The Golfers by Charles Lees (1800-1880) is the study for the painting which now hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Lees depicts a decisive moment on the fifteenth green of the Old Course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St Andrews, during a match between Sir David Baird and Sir Ralph Anstruther versus Major Hugh Lyon Playfair and John Campbell of Glen Saddel. The composition features many individual portraits of golfing personalities among the engrossed spectators. The artist was to add two games of golf to the background, and increase the number of spectators, for his finished painting. The estimate is £120,000 – 180,000.

The Golf Links, North Berwick by Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) will be offered with an estimate of £150,000 – £250,000. This painting is from a series of works the artist painted at the Scottish golf course in 1921 and 1922, another example of which is at Tate Britain. They are the most valuable and desirable modern depictions of the game.

Tom Morris (1821–1908), known as ‘Old Tom’, is to golf what W.G. Grace is to cricket. One of the premier players of his day, and a very good ball and club maker, he played in the first Open Championship at Prestwick in 1860 and went on to win that competition four times. He became the R & A’s first professional and ‘keeper of the green’. A putter owned and used by the great man himself and his son ‘Young Tom’, a golfing prodigy who sadly died aged 25, is one of the remarkable wooden clubs offered in the catalogue. Crafted by Hugh Philp, a master club-maker based at St. Andrews, Christie’s think that a bid in the region of £40,000 – £70,000 will buy you this iconic piece of golfing heritage. Perhaps this was the very club that secured some of the eight Open triumphs shared by the family.

Old Tom was apprenticed at the age of 18 as a feather ball maker to Allan Robertson, who made the ball inscribed ‘a new kind of golf ball made of gutta-percha in the year 1849’ (estimate £12,000 – £18,000). Gutta-percha is the evaporated latex produced from a rubber tree most commonly found in Malaysia. The improved durability and performance of the ‘gutta’ ball, introduced in 1848, together with its much lower cost, contributed considerably to the spread of popularity of the game of golf. As with most innovations, the new technology met with some resistance at first, not least from Robertson himself.  Nevertheless, in 1858, the man known simply as ‘Allan’ (the ball is stamped accordingly) became the first player to score under 80 on the Old Course, using a gutta.

In a high quality field of early golfing literature, a first edition of Thomas Mathison’s The Goff. An Heroi-Comical Poem stands out. Published in Edinburgh in 1743, it is the first separately printed book devoted entirely to golf (£30,000 – 50,000).

The first official rules of the game were written in 1744 by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, who now play at Muirfield in East Lothian – there were just 13 of them! A single-sheet early printing of the rules from 1818, comprising an expanded 14 articles, is guided at £7,000 – 10,000.

Surely one of the great items of American golfing ‘ephemera’ is the exceedingly rare programme for the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934. Between 1934 and 1938 the event was promoted as ‘The Augusta Invitation Tournament’. Interestingly, in light of the proudly sponsor-free policy of the Augusta National authorities, the 44-page booklet (estimate £5,000 – 8,000) contains advertisements. There was a programme issued for the following year’s tournament in 1935, but it was not until 1990 that the next Masters programme was published.

A minor miracle in suburbia

February 19, 2012

On Thursday I fulfilled a personal ambition when I opened the door of J. W. McKenzie, “the only shop premises specialising solely in second-hand and rare cricket books and memorabilia”.

For nearly forty years, Mr. McKenzie has welcomed visitors to this cricket enthusiast’s Mecca, a little gem in a somewhat unlikely looking parade of shops in an otherwise unremarkable Surrey street.

His informative but concise catalogues (number 171 out now) have documented and informed this corner of the sporting memorabilia market through the lean years and the boom times, and have set standards of accuracy and integrity that have influenced anyone who is anyone trading in cricket’s peculiarly rich literary heritage.

Perhaps never before have independent booksellers been under greater threat. So how has this book dealer, a highly specialised one at that, been able to thrive for so long in an apparently hostile climate?

The answer is simple, yet difficult to achieve: he is very good at what he does. McKenzie runs a smooth operation (at least from the outside!), ably assisted by loyal and long-serving staff. Internet and telephone orders are efficiently processed and dispatched; the stock is organised simply (by author) and accessibly. I enquired about two specific titles as I browsed the heaving shelves and the proprietor was able to find both within seconds. Simple. Service is friendly and courteous, every visitor afforded personal attention. He seems happy to share expertise and patiently answer the most trivial query.

Perhaps this high standard of professionalism is what customers should expect from all shopkeepers. But we don’t get it very often, in my experience.

Informed fans know where to go to own a piece of cricket history – someone will refer them to McKenzie. I remember seeing one of those modestly-presented catalogues on a friend’s coffee table years ago, long before I got seriously interested in collecting cricketana. With the best and most trusted book dealers, word spreads like ripples on a pond. McKenzie will find that scarce title – and won’t overcharge for it.

On 20th April Dreweatts auctioneers (, 01635 553553) will hold their sale of the Norman R Bobins Collection of British sporting prints at their Donnington Priory salerooms near Newbury, Berkshire.

Among the largely hunting, racing and equestrian subjects collected by Chicago banker Bobins over 25 years is a wonderful print of perhaps the best-known picture of a golfer ever painted, and the first British golf engraving.

Commonly called ‘The Blackheath Golfer’, and famously dedicated ‘To the Society of Goffers at Blackheath’ by the painter Lemuel Francis Abbott (c. 1760 – 1802), a fine early example of the classic portrait of William Innes (1760 – 1803) and his caddie is going under the hammer, with an estimate of £6,000 – 8,000.

You will be familiar with the image, reproduced as it has been countless times over the last 200 years or so: a leading member of the golfing Society that was to become the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, Innes is posed haughtily on the Heath in the uniform of a Captain, Morden College and a windmill in the background. He rests a long-nosed wood over his shoulder and clutches a large feather golf ball in his other hand. Behind him is his caddie, dressed in the pensioner’s uniform of the nearby Greenwich Naval Hospital, carrying a bundle of early clubs under his arm (bags weren’t regularly used until c.1890).

First published in London in 1790, it is difficult to establish categorically the first issue of the mezzotint, though it is extremely rare – perhaps less than 15 are known to exist. The market has been saturated with various reprints and reissues throughout the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th. This is undoubtedly an early pull from engraver Valentine Green’s copper printing plate and appears to be a magnificently rich, velvety impression, in superb condition. It is a view emphatically endorsed by Nick Potter, specialist dealer in sporting prints, pictures and memorabilia (, 07802 407705). He describes the Bobins print as “the finest impression I have seen”.

In his 30 years in the trade, Nick says he has only handled 3, maybe 4, truly early examples, making Abbott’s 1812 portrait of Henry Callender, another Blackheath golfer and the nearest to a companion piece, appear relatively common.

According to different accounts, the original oil painting (painted in 1778) was either destroyed with the Blackheath Club’s early records in an 18th century fire, or during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 when mutineers in Lucknow burnt down the house of Innes’ illegitimate grandson, a General in the Indian Army!  Which hints at the somewhat mysterious character of the enigmatic sitter – he has been identified as a London merchant and  M.P. for Ilchester, an upstanding figure in his community who died without issue; yet some have suggested he was involved in bribery and the slave trade and had nine children out of wedlock!

Also in the sale is a fine large engraving of Charles Lees’ ‘The Golfers, A Grand Match played on St Andrews Links’, together with the very rare key plate, guided at £1,200 – 1,800.

Contact Specialist Robert Hall ( for more information.

A Happy New Year?

January 6, 2011

So what are the prospects for the antique print trade in 2011? On the face of it not too bright, given the economic uncertainties of the last couple of years largely remain, and buyer confidence in all but the very best material remains low.

The UK VAT rise to 20% doesn’t help; it’s an additional cost dealers will in the end have to pass on to their customers.

Positives? There’s still value for money to be had for the collector of good quality printed material. The cricket memorabilia market showed signs of ruder health in 2010 and one hopes this year will see it continue to emerge from the trough of the last four years or so. Football has received a boost with the high profile lots that went under the hammer in the second half of last year, though golfiana still struggles for the most part.

I still happen to believe that there is an as yet untapped pool of potential buyers out there – perhaps mainly young and fresh to the art and antiques market – who could be attracted to the idea of old prints and books as an accessible and under-exploited collecting field. Modern and contemporary British prints continue to perform well; am I naive to hope that collectors might start to cast their eyes back to previous centuries?

I’ll keep trying to raise awareness in my own small way, and keep hoping. May I wish all my loyal readers (I know there are thousands of you out there) a happy, healthy and prosperous 2011.