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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Why do Spain’s civil guards wear those strange hats?

If you’ve ever seen Spanish national day parades on October 12th, then you’ve most likely seen groups of Spain’s Civil Guards marching along wearing strange black hats. What’s the reason behind this odd uniform attire and where did they originate?

Why do Spain’s civil guards wear those strange hats?

Known as the tricornio, this type of hat is one of the most representative symbols of the Spanish Civil Guard and has been a true piece of their identity for as long as most people can remember.

The main characteristic of the hat is that it has three points. Today, the hat is black, rounded at the front, while at the back is a kind of headboard with two points or wings jutting out either side. Although this is what it looks like in the modern day, its material, shape, size and its colors have evolved over time.

Origin of the tricornio

The origin of this quirky hat goes back to almost the very founding of the Civil Guard. The tricornio became part of the Civil Guard uniform in 1859, only 14 years after it was formed.  

The first ones were made from felt and were the brainchild of the Duke of Ahumada (1803 – 1869), a Spanish Army officer known for being the founder of the Civil Guard and its first director-general. He wanted to make sure the uniforms were both elegant and authoritative, yet with a showy appearance.  

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He presented General Narváez, head of the Civil Guard at the time and the 1st Duke of Valencia, with a mannequin dressed in the uniform and topped with the tricornio hat, to be worn by the cavalry forces.

This uniform was accepted, but on the condition that the infantry forces also wear it. It was Queen Isabel II, at the proposal of General Narváez, who ruled that the tricornio should be worn by both.  

At the time, it was a type of hat with wings, in which the rear and front wings folded over the crown, and were kept in place by a ribbon and a button, this is why it is said to have three peaks or corners.  

Spanish Civil Guard troops march during the Spanish National Day military parade in Madrid. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

Evolution of the tricornio

Both its shape and its size have changed considerably over the years to adapt to the needs of the civil guards – the main ones being that it is now a lot smaller and has also changed colour. Sometimes a gold band was added, while the more modern versions were plain black.

From felt hats, they changed to rubber to be able to withstand various weather conditions. The rubber version was based on a design created by the Civil Guard wives who decided on a new flap with buttons on each side. This version consisted of different layers and colors, but the shape has remained until today.

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Later on, the rubber was covered in plastic, until it became replaced by vinyl, which would give it both shape and shine.

This again was subsequently changed to a material that resembled patent leather to promise better vision and durability.

In the post-war period, the uniform was modernised to prioritise combat requirements, practicality for transport units, and any symbols that may be required.

Starting in 1989, the tricornio came to be worn only as part of the gala uniform for ceremonies, parades and solemn acts, as well as in some operational services, such as those in charge of surveillance of embassies or airport security.  

Even so, these oddly-shaped hats have continued to be used throughout the 20th century and still serve as a visual reference and the most important symbol of the Civil Guard today.