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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
Lord auctions atlases after blaze
Detail of page in Doria Atlas, produced by 16th century Italian Lafreri school
Villagers formed a human chain to help save the atlases from the fire
Rare atlases that were nearly destroyed in a fire at a stately home are due to fetch more than 5m at auction.

Lord and Lady Wardington have been forced to sell the 700 books to pay for repairs after a fire at Wardington Manor, near Banbury, Oxfordshire.

Villagers formed a human chain to save the books from the smoke-filled home, passing each one from the library during the fire in April last year.

The first part of the set goes on sale at Sotheby's in London on 18 October.

Lord Wardington collected the 700 books, which contain 60,000 maps, over 50 years.

Detail from cover of Joannes van Keulen Zee Atlas, Amsterdam, 1682
Sotheby's say the collection is one of the most important ever sold

His collection spans six centuries and experts at Sotheby's say it represents every major map-maker.

Simon Warren, of Sotheby's, said: "It is the most important collection of atlases and geographies to have come to auction in living memory."

The collection includes the Doria Atlas, created by the 16th Century Italian Lafreri school, owned by the Genoese family of Admiral Andrea Doria.

Sotheby's expect the atlas to sell for between 700,000 and 1m.

Also expected to sell for 1m is the first printed atlas, containing maps by Claudius Ptolemy.

The edition was printed in Bologna in 1477 and is the first to have engraved maps. It is believed to be one of only two copies in private hands.

Another valuable item, the Joannes van Keulen Zee Atlas, printed in Amsterdam in 1682, is estimated to sell for 60,000-80,000.

The second part of the collection is to be sold at Sotheby's in London in March 2006, at a date yet to be set.

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