Bernard Quaritch

A collection of stories: weekly, we share a story around the Founder’s Collection. The month of November is dedicated to art dealers.
19 nov 2020

Usually stored out of sight of the public gaze, exhibited on rotation for conservation reasons, Calouste Gulbenkian’s book collection boasts important and rare editions, including manuscripts and printed books, fragments and bindings, produced between the 12th century and the early 20th century.

A significant number of works in this section were acquired by the collector from Bernard Quaritch, Ltd., a shop devoted to the sale of rare books and manuscripts, which opened in 1847. The founder, Bernard Quaritch (1819-1899), was born in a small German town and from an early age worked in bookshops in his home country. In 1842, he moved to London, where he worked with Henry Bohn, the best-known bookseller in the city.


«Regulae Societatis Iesu (binding)», France, 16th century. French-binding in morocco with gold engraving. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum


Some years later, in 1847, Quaritch opened his own business in Leicester Square, in central London, and quickly amassed a significant clientèle. The dealer was interested in books on diverse themes, but he became known for selling ancient editions, among them incunables, manuscripts, bibles and historical bindings. One of the first books he bought was a ‘Gutenberg Bible,’ an incunable printed by Johannes Gutenberg between 1450 and 1455, which marked the beginning of mass production in Europe. Only 49 copies survived – it is thought that six of them passed through Quaritch’s hands.


Armenian Bible, Constantinople, 1623. Gouache painting on vellum paper. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum


Bernard’s sons continued their father’s work after his death, with E. H. Dring becoming director – the Dring family would work for the company for approximately 113 years. F. S. Ferguson later took over management of the firm. A colleague since 1897, Ferguson had worked directly with the shop’s founder and was recognised not just as a bookseller but also as a well-regarded bibliographer.

Although the Quaritch family decided to sell the business in the 1970s, the firm is still in operation today under the same name, owned by the book collector and investor John Koh. The company now offers evaluations of collections and advice on purchases, and continues to buy and sell books at auction. Bernard Quaritch, Ltd., also publishes books and catalogues and holds an archive of documents that includes correspondence with some illustrious names, such as the famous collector J. Pierpont Morgan and the writer, editor and collector William Morris.

A Collection of Stories

On a weekly basis, we shared a story around Calouste Gulbenkian’s collection. This section was created in 2020, which is why the articles refer to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum collection as the Founder’s Collection.

Other stories

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