Christie's to auction rare first edition of 'Canterbury Tales'

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A FIRST edition copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the first book to be printed in England, is expected to raise at least pounds 500,000 when it is auctioned in July.

The book was printed in 1477 by William Caxton at his workshop in Westminster Abbey and only 12 copies are known to exist.

This edition is the last remaining copy in private hands and was acquired by William, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam at an auction of books at Christie's in March 1776.

It will be auctioned with other books and works of art belonging to the trustees of Olive, Countess Fitzwilliam, of Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire.

The collection was started by Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, who died in 1641, and added to by his descendants. Christie's, which is handling the auction, said it was one of the country's most important collections.

The sale includes a painting by Stubbs and a Van Dyck portrait which is expected to fetch around pounds 3m.

Lord Hindlip, the chairman of Christie's said: "This is one of the most important collections of works of art to be offered at auction since the celebrated sales of works of art from Houghton in 1994 and from the Bute family collection in 1996.

"The proceeds of the sale will protect the future of the family and the remainder of the collection, one of the most important in private hands in this country."

The Wentworth family has had the land at Wentworth Woodhouse since the 13th century.