Balzac manuscript top seller at sale of vast French collection

Paris (AFP) –


A manuscript of Balzac's novel "Ursule Mirouet" sold for 1.17 million euros ($1.38 million) at auction in Paris late Wednesday, as the world's biggest private collection of French literary texts went under the hammer.

The draft, one of only two in private hands of the 1841 story of a woman who survives a plot by provincial notables to deprive her of her inheritance, went for the highest price in the first sale of the vast collection amassed by the collapsed investment firm Aristophil.

The company was shut down in scandal two years ago taking 850 million ($1 billion) of investors' money with it after French authorities accused it of being a pyramid scheme.

The 130,000 manuscripts and historical documents that Aristophil had its investors sink their savings into are now being sold off by the authorities in 300 auctions over the next six years.

The other big price at the first sale was for a 15th-century illuminated copy of Roman author Quintus Curtius Rufus' first-century "Histories of Alexander the Great", which sold for 640,000 euros.

A love letter from Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife Josephine dating from 1796 also went for 280,000 euros, more than four times its estimate.

The two star lots of the first sale -- the manuscript of the Marquis de Sade's erotic masterpiece, "120 Days of Sodom", and Andre Breton's "Surrealist Manifestos" -- were withdrawn on Monday after the French government declared them national treasures, banning their export.