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Thursday, July 9, 1998 Published at 03:30 GMT 04:30 UK


Canterbury Tales fetches record 4.6m

The rare first edition of Chaucer's famous work

A 15th-century, first edition of The Canterbury Tales has been sold for a record 4.6m at Christie's in London.

[ image: The book is a highlight of the Wentworth sale]
The book is a highlight of the Wentworth sale
The book by Geoffrey Chaucer, the first major volume printed in England, fetched seven times the estimate of 700,000 to set an auction record for any printed book.

The buyer was London book dealers the Mags brothers.

Only a dozen copies of the 1477 first edition, printed by William Caxton, still exist and this was the last version in private hands.

The previous record sale price for a book was 3.5m for a 1455 Gutenberg bible in October 1987.

Chaucer's masterpiece is part of the Wentworth Sale, the disposal of a 10m private British collection of books, furniture, silver and pictures.

It has been billed as the most significant English collection auctioned since the 21 million sale of antiques from Houghton Hall, Norfolk, at Christie's in 1994.

The books section of the auction has made a total of 6,579,000, including 771,500 for an edition of the first book printed in English, Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, translated from a French work by Caxton.

Originally bought for 6

Written in the 14th Century, The Canterbury Tales tells the story of a group of pilgrims on their way from London to the Shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. He describes each character in turn.

A publican, Harry Bailey, joins them as a guide and suggests that each pilgrim should tell his tale and whoever tells the best story gets all the rest to pay for his or her supper when they return.

The auctioned copy was originally bought by the first Earl Fitzwilliam for 6 at the sale of the library belonging to John Radcliffe, a chandler in London's Bermondsey, at Christie's in 1776.

Hear the opening lines of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in the original Chaucerian pronunciation

    Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury.

    Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
    The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
    And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
    Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
    Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

    Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
    The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
    Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
    And smale foweles maken melodye,
    That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

    So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-
    Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.

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