Comparing Cobbold’s Entries in the Manuscript Catalog to the Sotheby’s catalog: What Do We Learn?

Scholars and students can learn about women writers, collectors, and book culture in 19th-century Britain by comparing the entries for an author in Stainforth’s manuscript catalog of the books in his library to the entry for the same author in Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge’s catalog (1867), compiled by the auctioneers in order to sell Stainforth’s library of women’s writing after his death in 1866.

From Paula Feldman’s British Women Poets of the Romantic Era: An Anthology, we know that Cobbold’s authorship traversed genres including the novel, epigram, song, ode, sonnet, elegy, ballad, opera, tragedy, and epic (186). Here is a list of Cobbold’s published major works, as compiled by Feldman, with those works collected by Stainforth in blue.

  • Poems on Various Subjects [by Eliza Knipe] (Manchester, 1783)
  • Six Narrative Poems [by Eliza Knipe] (London, 1787)
  • The Sword; or, Father Bertrand’s History of his own Times; from the original manuscript (1791)
  • The Mince Pye; an Heroic Epistle: Humbly Addressed to the Sovereign Dainty of a British Feast. By Carolina Petty Pasty (London, 1800)
  • Cliff Valentines, 1813 (Ipswich, [1813])
  • Cliff Valentines, 1814 (Ipswich, [1814])
  • Ode on the Victory of Waterloo (Ipswich, 1815)
  • Poems by Mrs. Elizabeth Cobbold with a Memoir of the Author, [ed. Laetitia Jermyn] (Ipswich, 1825).

From this comparison, we learn that there were several works of Cobbold’s that were scarce in circulation in the early and mid-19th century, when Stainforth acquired the lion’s share of his library. These rare works include her first collection of poetry (1783) and her volumes entitled Cliff Valentintes, which she first circulated only among her close friends in Ipswich, as they were familiar with the Valentine’s Day parties that she and her husband organized and for which she composed these verses. We cannot draw the same inference of small circulation for her novel, The Sword, because Stainforth did not pursue the acquisition of novels; he focused his collection on women’s drama and poetry. His omission of this novel from his collection was a deliberate choice, most likely.

There are several theories about Stainforth’s omission of novels from his collection. Jeff Cox suggests that Stainforth was only interested in collecting classical Aristotelian genres: poetry and drama. Poetry, especially, occupied the provenance of “high literature” in the 18th and 19th centuries, where novels were regarded more as the entertainment of the masses. In addition, it is important to note that novel writing, printing, and publication in the 19th century was extremely prolific. To collect all of the editions published by women novelists would have made Stainforth’s collection project too challenging to complete, and it would have required, perhaps, more square footage to store them than he had. (Research on the dimensions and layout of Stainforth’s library at All Hallow’s Staining is underway.)

Stainforth’s catalog listing for Cobbold differs greatly from the auctioneers’ listing and a comparison helps us learn about how her works were valued by a collector versus how auctioneers Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge valued her work for the auction block.

Here is a comparison of the manuscript (top table) and the auctioneers’ catalog (below). I have transcribed these entries so that they are easier to read.

Works in Stainforth’s Manuscript Catalog

Page (PDF) Shelf-Mark Author Title  Descrip Pub place Date
n97 C7 Cobbold (Mrs) Poems 1825
n97 C7 Mince Pye 4to 1800
n98 K3 Cobbold (Mrs) E Narrative Poems 4to 1787
n98 L7 Poems. Port. Ipswich 1825
n98 J2 D[itto] 12° Ipswich 1825
n98 H6 Waterloo 1815

Compare this data set to the data set that is listed in Sotheby’s auction catalog for Cobbold, below.

Lot # Author Title Phys. Descrip Pub place Date Notes
698 COBBOLD (ELIZABETH) formerly Knipe Sword or, Father Bertrand’s History of his own Times 2 vol in 1 Liverpool 1791 A novel, NOT listed in ms catalog.
699 Mince Pye, by Carolina Petty pasty Portrait of Mrs Glasse, and engraved title-page, 4to 1800
700 Ode on the Victory of Waterloo Red morocco, g e. Ipswich 1815
701 Poems With Memoir of the Author, 1b 1825
702 Poems Another copy, large paper, 1b 1825
703 Poems Another edition, large and thick paper, two portraits, and etchings in lithography by the Family, 1b 1825

Shelf-marks versus lot numbers: The codes in the left-hand margin of the manuscript catalog are Stainforth’s shelf-marks that indicate the location of the book on his shelves. In the auctioneers’ catalog, the leftmost number signifies the auction lot number, a number signifying the order of sale. The most valuable items, like manuscripts, have the highest lot numbers (and reach the auction block last) and a value yet to be assigned by bidders at the auction. Reassembling Stainforth’s library electronically will enable our team to understand how the collector’s system of shelving reflects his value of these works. It is possible that his shelving system does not indicate value at all, but instead, a system of organization by genre, size, publisher, or order of acquisition. Furthermore, as any book collector knows, shelving order is always, additionally, contingent upon available shelf-space and the layout of the archive room.

Finally, Sotheby’s list contains a novel that was not in Stainforth’s library. The novel, called The Sword; or, Father Bertrand’s History of his own Times; from the original manuscript (1791), was listed first in the line of Cobbold’s works to sell on the auction block with Stainforth’s library. This novel is nowhere to be found in the manuscript: it is not listed under Cobbold, nor is it listed under Knipe, Cobbold’s first married name under which she published the novel. The manuscript entry for “Knipe, Eliza” simply says “see Cobbold.” Of course, it is possible that this novel was overlooked during the process of cataloging the library; however, knowing Stainforth’s disinterest in collecting novels and novelists’ work, it is likely that he chose not to procure this book. We may then consider the possibility that Sotheby’s added this novel to the collection at the time of the auction in order to increase the completeness, and therefore the value, of Cobbold’s collection to attract bidders.

Cobbold has no works listed in Stainforth’s “Wish List”. You can check Stainforth’s “wish list”–or the list of books that he wanted to acquire–in the back of the catalog to see if he was hunting for any of Cobbold’s books that he knew about but was unable to find on the market. Neither Cobbold nor Knipe are listed in Stainforth’s wish list. Thus, we learn that the collector did not have trouble locating the works by her that he owned. He possessed all of the volumes by the author that he knew about. Her other works must have been unadvertised, causing him not to seek them, since data indicates that he strove to collect all of an author’s titles and editions of a given work.

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