Rare Gospel fragment fails to sell at Sotheby's

Wed Dec 3, 2008 1:46pm EST
 
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LONDON (Reuters) - An unusually large fragment from possibly the oldest copy of part of the Gospel of John failed to sell at a Sotheby's auction on Wednesday.

But a compendium containing a previously unknown, 14th century manuscript of Medieval traveler Marco Polo's adventures along the Silk Road and into China the century before did fetch 937,250 pounds ($1.4 million), around four times its estimate.

The Gospel fragment, a torn piece of papyrus with Greek writing on it and dated to around 200 AD, had been expected to raise between 200,000 and 300,000 pounds.

Its failure to sell was the second setback for the auction, after the most valuable lot, an early Carolingian Gospel Book valued at 2.0-3.0 million pounds, was withdrawn "at the request of the consignor."

Sotheby's would not expand on why the lot was removed, but the significant drop in prices for valuable art in recent months has made sellers more cautious.

The biggest bid of the sale was the compendium, one of only six manuscripts of Polo's account to appear on the market in the last century and the first since one was sold by Sotheby's in 1930.

The Latin volume was probably copied by a monk from a selection of manuscripts in the library of Glastonbury Abbey which are now almost completely lost or destroyed.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Charles Dick)

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<p>A fragment from a copy of the Gospel of John, circa 200AD, is displayed at Sotheby's auctioneers in London, November 28, 2008. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett</p>