Maggs Bros Ltd
Maggs Bros Ltd is one of the longest-established antiquarian booksellers in the world, established in 1853 by Uriah Maggs, born c.1828 in Midsomer Norton, Somerset. All four of Uriah’s sons eventually joined the business, taking over on his retirement in 1894.
The initial Maggs Brothers of the firm’s title were Benjamin and Henry, later joined by Charles and Ernest. In 1908, B. D. Maggs served a full (then yearly) term as President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA). Maggs Bros. is still under family ownership, and is currently managed by Edward Maggs.
In 1916 Maggs Bros bought the penis of Napoleon Bonaparte from the descendants of Abbé Ange Paul Vignali, who had given the last rites and surreptitiously cut off the member in question. Vignali apparently brought it to Corsica, and died in a vendetta in 1828. He passed on the memento to his sister, who at her death passed it on to her son. In 1924, the desiccated item was sold to a Dr. A. S. Rosenbach, who mounted it in a case of blue morocco and velvet. In 1927, it was exhibited at the Museum of French Art.
Maggs Brothers pulled off the greatest bookselling coup of the inter-war period, when in 1932 they successfully negotiated with the government of Soviet Russia to acquire not only a Gutenberg Bible, but also the celebrated Codex Sinaiticus.
In 1931 Ernest Maggs had travelled to the Soviet Union with a colleague, Maurice Ettinghausen, who was both a bookseller and a scholar. When they saw the priceless Codex Sinaiticus, Ettinghausen remarked to his hosts, “If you ever want to sell it, let me know." Some time later, Maggs received a postcard saying that the Soviet government would be prepared to sell the Codex Sinaiticus for 200,000 pounds. The British group countered with 40,000 pounds. Finally, a price of 100,000 pounds was agreed upon. This was the largest price that had ever been paid for a book. It was an enormous sum at the time. The British government agreed to pay half the amount and guaranteed the remainder if it were not raised by public subscription.
Maggs have regularly set book price records; in 1947 they bought a second Gutenberg Bible - the Dyson Perrins copy - for £22,000, on behalf of Sir Philip Frere, and a few years later resold it to Mrs. Doheny of California, this latter copy now the only one in Japan. In 1998 the firm set the current record for the most expensive printed book, when it bought for £4,200,000 a copy of the first book printed in England, William Caxton’s The Canterbury Tales.
Maggs Bros. Ltd. have been antiquarian booksellers by appointment to H.M. King George V, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), H.M. King Alfonso XIII of Spain, H.M. King Manuel II of Portugal, and are currently favoured with the Royal Warrant to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II.
- Handbook of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association 2008-9, edited by Michael Silverman. ISBN 978-0-904306-02-6
- Source: "Description of the Vignali Collection of relics of Napoleon", Philadelphia: The Rosenbach Company, 1924