Never judge a book by its cover – a rare Piranesi raises thousands for Oxfam

A rare book of etchings by the Italian artist, Piranesi raised £30,000 for Oxfam when it was sold at Cheffins Fine Art Auctioneers in Cambridge.

The volume was part of a larger anonymous donation to the Oxfam shop in Olney, Buckinghamshire.

Despite missing its front cover and being in a poor state, the book attracted the shop volunteers’ attention.  The book turned out to be one of a rare folio of 52 etchings of views of the city of Rome, by Italian 18thcentury artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

Tim Street, who has been volunteering for Oxfam for 15 years, decided to find out more about the etchings and the artist – and he asked a friend who is a Director at Cheffins’ auction house to examine the book.

Street said: “When I first saw the book, I thought it was a mess. But then, I realised the etchings were by Piranesi. We decided to auction it to see how much it would fetch – we always try to make the most of what the public donates, and this seemed a rare find.”

The Piranesi etchings sold for £30,000, over four times the initial estimate.

Charles Ashton, Director, Cheffins said:

 “Piranesi was famous for his etchings of Rome and his drawings rarely come for sale on the open market. We were pleased to have had the opportunity to offer these important works for sale and the price achieved was a strong result, which we hope will help Oxfam in its essential work.”

Oxfam shop manager Joanne Papworth-Smith said:

“This is a fantastic find which will help make a difference to people living in poverty. It is all credit to a generous donation and the resourcefulness of our shop volunteers. The book could have been easily overlooked but our volunteers invested their expertise, time and research skills.

“We always need donations and you never know what treasures may be hidden among your unwanted books.”

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