Benito Legarda collection to be auctioned off

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Nov 17 2023 07:26 PM

Isabel Cristina Legarda, only child of Don Benito and Lita Legarda, returned from the US this month with her husband Eric, to hold the auction
Isabel Cristina Legarda, only child of Don Benito and Lita Legarda, returned from the US this month with her husband Eric, to hold the auction

MANILA -- When something is “legendary,” it is definitely worth a second look.

“The Bibliophiles and Explorers Auction: The Legendary Collection of Books, Maps and Prints of Don Benito Legarda, Jr.” will be held on November 18 at Leon Gallery in Makati.

The collection contains maps about Philippine provinces, from Aparri to Jolo, rare and antique prints, as well as books that date back to a century ago.

Jorge Mojarro, curator of the book, has been studying the history of the printing press in the Philippines for a decade now. He has resided here in Manila for 14 years, and has contributed articles to the book.

“I’m very familiar with any book written in the Philippines until the American period,” Mojarro told ABS-CBN News. “I have been in this topic for more than 12 years now.

“I know better the older books. There are many books. There are 40 volumes of ‘Historia de Filipinas’ by Father Juan de la Concepcion. That book was sold a few months ago in Europe for 55,000 euros.

“I don’t know if people will be willing to pay that much when the books will be auctioned here. Also the maps of [cartographer] Murillo Velarde from 1749 should be around P4 million.”

Mojarro is talking about books that are printed in Manila. He is teaching Spanish at Instituto de Cervantes. He is also a professor of Literature at the University of Santo Tomas.

“There were three printing press in Manila during the Spanish period,” he informed. “There were the Dominican, the Jesuits and Franciscan presses. The artists who collaborated on the book and the people who printed the books were Filipinos.”

Mojarro proudly informed that all the books in Legarda’s collection have been preserved through the years. “That’s very rare because here in the Philippines, you have anay [termites],” he said. “Sometimes, it’s easier to find books abroad than here.”

Meanwhile, director of “The Bibliophiles and Explorers Auction” is Jaime Ponce de Leon. Dr. Legarda is his relative on his mother’s side. 

“Everybody in the map society and many people knew he had a great collection not only of art, but of books maps,” De Leon said. “He was a consummate collector.

“When we were sifting through his things, you could really see he was an accumulator. He knew very much what he was buying. You could really feel it when you see the things, the kinds of books that he read.

“Dr. Legarda really read all those things and he had the knowledge for those things. He was really unique that way. Not only gifted with such intelligence, but he was a wide reader.”

De Leon had a hand in mounting the exhibit at Leon Gallery. “There are a lot of books,” he informed. “The ones you see here that will be auctioned off are not all of Dr. Legarda’s books. These are only limited to the books of the Spanish era.

There are three or four times more this volume in the collection which are not included in the auction. Obviously, Dr. Legarda spent millions in his acquisitions.

That includes books on the Philippine-American war, Philippine Commonwealth and other subjects.

“There are some books with a price tag of only $6 in the 1960s. But you must imagine how much will that sold today. That will be very valuable 

“We have some books that are only one in the world. Such rarity. There are also known valuable ones like the Pedro Murillo Velarde that contains maps from the 16th century,” he said.

The “gorgeous” catalog alone can be kept as a souvenir of the rarity of the entire collection.

Legarda’s daughter and only child Isabel Cristina wanted her dad’s books to go to collectors and to people who will value the pieces well.

She arrived from the US, where she has been based since 1981 with her husband Eric.

Isabel knew ever since her father had an extensive collection in the house. “I also knew it would be impossible for me to keep everything,” she lamented. “We live so far away. We are in the States.”

The auction on November 18, 2 p.m. will be opened online for international bidders. The items will have conversion to US dollars, Canadian dollars, euros and pounds.

“I’m still trying to organize my late father’s things and take care of some things that need to be taken cared of,” Isabel added.

Since Isabel is based in the US, she allowed her cousin, De Leon, to take care of many things for the exhibit. “He auctioned off some of my dad’s collection in the past,” she said. “We’ve been in very close touch about what to do and when.

'“We had a conversation when will be a good time for the auction. We both decided November will be doable for us.”

Not everything will be auctioned off, though. “Most of the rare and historic items are here,” Isabel said. “If anything was left behind, it’s either I wanted to keep it for sentimental reason. Maybe Jaime and Jorge thought that will be for another [auction] time.”

“I didn’t necessarily keep my favorites. I kept a couple of things that I had an attachment to for various reasons. The ones that are here are the Murillo book that has the maps. It’s such a rare volume.

“We came across the book in his library. It was a surprise. We didn’t even realize he had that. It was like a hidden treasure there. It is being auctioned.”

Isabel’s dad spent 60 years in putting together the collection. “He started when he was in his 20s or perhaps 30s. He was an avid collector of prints, maps and books from all over the world," she said.

“Every time we travelled, he had favorite used bookshops from Madrid, New York, Boston. He loved to go treasure hunting. It was one of his joys in life.”

Lisa Guerrero Nakpil acted as consultant for the book. The family decided to auction off the collection shortly after Legarda died on August 26, 2020 at 94. However, the pandemic prevented them from doing the auction

Tats Rejante Manahan did the set up for the event after she was requested by De Leon. “The first time I worked with Jaime was for [artist] Alfonso Osorio show in 2016,” Manahan offered.

“When Jaime has something like this and he asks me to set the mood for the occasion, like it’s the opening dinner and we’ll have the family here or everybody concerned with the exhibit.”

Dr. Legarda’s collection is really outstanding, noted Manahan. “I don’t often do things like this, only the special ones,” Manahan said. “This is a special one.

“Like what Jaime said, Dr. Legarda is one of the ‘biggies’ as far as collectors are concerned. He is a very passionate historian. His collection is very well selected.”