Rare editions of Spain’s Don Quixote go up for auction

Two volumes of "Don Quixote", the epic Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes, will go up for auction in Paris, where they are expected to fetch between €400 and €600K combined. Here's the incredible story of how they were unearthed.

Rare editions of Spain's Don Quixote go up for auction
Two volumes of Miguel de Cervantes's 'Don Quixote' novel, are pictured at Sotheby's auction house in central London on November 25, 2022, ahead of their auction, where they are expected to realise GBP 340,000-510,000 (€400,000-€600,000; USD 414,000-622,000). (Photo by Daniel LEAL/AFP)

Ed Maggs examines a shelf of leather-bound antique books that his family have been selling from their landmark London shop for the last 170 years.

It was at Maggs Bros. Ltd that a Bolivian diplomat acquired two volumes of “Don Quixote”, the Spanish epic novel by Miguel de Cervantes, which are now up for auction.

The books go on sale in Paris on December 14th, where they are expected to fetch between €400,000 and €600,000 ($414,000 to $621,000) combined.

They were last bought in the 1930s by diplomat Jorge Ortiz Linares, who was subsequently Bolivia’s ambassador to France in the 1940s.

He was the son-in-law of Simon Patino, a Bolivian industrialist living in Paris, who made his vast fortune in tin mining in the early 20th century.

Ortiz was an avid collector and was on the hunt for an original edition of “Don Quixote”, which many consider to be the first modern novel.

The tale of a poor Spanish gentleman who reads so many chivalric romances that he thinks he is a knight was a huge success when it was published in 1605.

In the 1930s, Ortiz’s research led him to the British capital, which Maggs describes as “arguably the most important centre for the rare book trade” in the world.

Maggs Bros Managing Director Ed Maggs poses for a photograph at his antiquarian booksellers in London. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS /AFP)

‘Real fortune’

Maggs is the great-great-grandson of Uriah Maggs, who founded the bookstore in 1853.

Over the years, it gained a reputation among British royalty and exiled monarchs such as Manuel II of Portugal and Spain’s Alfonso XIII.

The bookshop, now in Bedford Square near University College London and the British Museum, came to own 1,358 rare editions of Spanish-language books.

They were collected in a catalogue published in 1927 “still quoted by bibliographers today”, says Jonathan Reilly, an expert on the Maggs bookshop.

Reilly points to one of the works that caught Ortiz’s eye: two first editions of “Don Quixote” — Book I, published in 1605, and Book II, which came out 10 years later.

Both were on sale for £3,500 — the equivalent of nearly £174,000 ($210,000) — and “a real fortune at the time”, he added.

Ortiz, however, was out of luck and found that the books had already been sold. But he left his details just in case.

Two volumes of Miguel de Cervantes’s ‘Don Quixote’ novel are pictured at Sotheby’s auction house in central London on November 25th 2022. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)


In 1936, he received a long-awaited call from the bookseller and made a trip to London as soon as he could.

“Why did he get on an airplane immediately? The book collector is sometimes enthusiast, sometimes a little bit obsessed,” said Maggs.

Ortiz ended up buying a third edition of Book I and a first edition of Book II, said Anne Heilbronn, head of books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s auction house.

He paid £100 (about £5,600 today) for the first edition and £750 (£42,000 today) for the second.

Since then, the books have remained out of public view but can now be seen at Sotheby’s in London before the Paris sale next month.

The first editions of Don Quixote Book I are rare because many were lost in a shipwreck near Havana when they were sent en masse to Latin America, the auction house said.

Published in 1608, the third edition was the last to be printed during Cervantes’ lifetime and was corrected by him, Heilbronn said.

“All the translations we have today come from this third edition so it’s important,” she added.


What makes the books unique is that they were bound in the 18th century for an English collector.

Such early bindings of the book are very rare, said Heilbronn.

On his visit to Maggs Bros on December 21, 1936, Ortiz bought three other gems: a first edition of Cervantes’ “Novelas ejemplares” published in 1613, and “La Florida del Inca” (1605).

In the latter, Garcilaso de la Vega recounts the conquest of America from the point of view of indigenous peoples.

Ortiz also bought the “Hispania Victrix” (1553) about the conquest of Mexico, which is the first work in history to mention California.

On Wednesday, the five works will be returned to the bookseller for a few hours before leaving for Paris.

They will then be auctioned off along with the 83 other items in the Ortiz Linares collection put together with the help of antiquarian bookseller Jean-Baptiste de Proyart.

Total sales are estimated at between €1.8 million and €2.5 million.

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13 changes you may have missed about Spain’s new ‘Civil War’ law

Spain's Democratic Memory Law is the Spanish government's attempt to deal with the complicated historical legacies of its Civil War. Here are 13 takeaways you might have missed from the controversial legislation.

13 changes you may have missed about Spain’s new ‘Civil War’ law

Spain’s new Democratic Memory Law, sometimes called the Historical Memory Law, passed the Spanish Senate on October 5th 2022 and officially became law a few weeks later, on October 21st.

It is a piece of wide-ranging but controversial legislation that aims to settle Spanish democracy’s debt to its past and deal with the complicated legacies of its Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which lasted from 1939 to 1975.

Legislation concerning Spain’s dictatorial past is always controversial, and this law was no different – it passed the Spanish Senate with 128 votes in favour, 113 against, and 18 abstentions.

The Spanish right has long been opposed to any kind of historical memory legislation, claiming that it digs up old rivalries and causes political tension. Spain’s centre-right party, the PP, have promised to overturn the law if it wins the next general election.

READ ALSO: Spain’s lawmakers pass bill honouring Franco-era victims

But what does the law actually say?

And what does it do?

The Local has broken down thirteen of the key takeaways you might have missed.

  • Convictions – The law declares Francoist courts illegal, therefore annulling convictions made by them or any affiliated criminal or administrative bodies since 1936. According to the official bill (BOE), which you can find here, Article 5 deals with “the illegality and illegitimacy of the courts, juries and any other criminal or administrative bodies that, since the Coup d’état of 1936, imposed, for political, ideological, religious conscience or belief, convictions or sanctions of a personal nature”. 
  • Locating victims – The Spanish government will lead the search for the thousands of missing persons left over from the Civil War and disappearances during the dictatorship. A map of potential mass grave sites will be created and according to Article 16 of the law, “annual exhumation data will be made public… which will include the number of registered petitions, the number of graves and remains of people located.” Article 17 outlines plans for an ‘integrated map’ to help locate victims and burial sites, which will cover the whole of Spain.

    Remains in the bottom of a mass grave at the San Roque cemetery in Puerto Real near Cádiz. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP
  • DNA bank – To aid in this search, a state-run DNA bank will be created to help the descendants of missing victims better compare genetic profiles during the identification of the remains. Article 23 of the law describes this as a “state-owned DNA database, attached to the Ministry of Justice, which will have the function of receiving and storing DNA profiles of victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship and their families, as well as people affected by the abduction of newborns”. 
  • Census – A ‘National Census of Victims of the Civil War and the Dictatorship’ will also be created in order to try and piece together the often fragmented information available about those who died during the Civil War, and countless victims of ‘forced disappearances’ during the dictatorship. 
  • Victimhood – The law also redefines the definition of what a victim is, extending it to someone who suffered physical, moral or psychological harm, property damage, or any infringement of their fundamental rights at the hands of Francoism. The dates for this new definition are from the date of the initial coup d’état on July 18th, 1936, all the way up until the creation of the 1978 Constitution. 
  • Days of Remembrance: Two days to remember: the law sets aside October 31st as a day of tribute to all the victims of the military coup, the Civil War and the dictatorship, whereas May 8th will be used as a day of memory for all the men, women and children exiled due to the dictatorship.
  • The Valley of the Fallen – The controversial Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos), where Franco was buried but has since been exhumed and moved, is to be renamed Valle de Cuelgamuros and the mausoleum repurposed. 

    READ ALSO: Spain to relocate remains of Franco’s fascist allies to more low-key grave

  • Human rights violations: a specialised prosecutor will investigate violations of international law and human rights that occurred during the Francoist period. Article 28 outlines the role of a prosecutor “created to investigate acts that constitute violations of international human rights law… including those that took place during the coup d’état, Civil War and the Dictatorship”. 
  • Francoist symbolism: Symbols, shields, insignia, plaques and any other symbolism glorifying Franco or Francoism, including objects attached to public buildings or displayed on public roads, will be removed. It also introduces measures to deal with the revocation of distinctions, appointments, titles and other institutional honours, including decorations and rewards or noble titles, which were bestowed during the dictatorship.
  • Groups banned – Equally, any foundations and associations considered Franco-apologist, or that glorify and engage in the direct or indirect incitement of hatred or violence against the victims of the Civil War and dictatorship, will be banned.
  • Education -The legislation also makes an attempt to better educate young Spaniards about the historical legacies of Francoism. The curriculum of ESO, FP and Baccalaureate courses will be updated to highlight “the repression that occurred during the war and the dictatorship”. 
  • International Brigade – Descendants of soldiers who fought in the International Brigades on the side of the Republicans will be eligible for fast-track Spanish citizenship as a result of the legislation, and they won’t have to give up their other nationality in order to do so.

    READ ALSO: Descendants of International Brigades can get fast-track Spanish nationality

    The fighters themselves have been able to apply for Spanish citizenship since 1996, though they were required to drop their other nationality. Spain’s 2007 Historical Memory Law removed that requirement, though the offer of citizenship was not extended to their descendants. According to the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), a group involved with drafts of the legislation, there are at least one hundred known descendants that could benefit from the symbolic citizenship offer.

  • Ley de Nietos – Known as the Grandchildren’s Law in English, the law also allows for descendants of Spaniards who fled Spain during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship to claim Spanish citizenship without ever having lived there. According to estimates, as many as 700,000 people, the majority in Latin America, could be eligible. It is even believed that Latino migrants living in Spain illegally could be eligible for citizenship. Between the end of the Civil War in 1939, and 1978, when Spain’s new constitution was approved as part of its transition to democracy, an estimated two million Spaniards fled the Franco regime.
    READ ALSO: Spain’s new ‘grandchildren’ citizenship law: What you need to know