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The Age of Exploration

Bonhams’ Fine Books sale includes rare early texts centered on discovery. By Peggy Carouthers Peggy Carouthers lives in North Carolina and is the editor of custom content at Journalistic Inc.

Breydenbach, Peregrinatio in terram sanctam. Mainz, 1486. $120,000-180,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.

From world travels to artistic innovation, the quest for new experiences and ideas has driven mankind for millennia. On September 26, the Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts sale will highlight the vast history of human discovery.

Dürer, sammelband. Nuremberg, 1525. $150,000-200,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.
Columbus, De Insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis. Basel, 1494. $700,000-1,000,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.

One incunabulum of note is a first edition of Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam, illustrated by the Dutch artist Erhard Reuwich and printed in 1486. Breydenbach’s account of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land is the earliest printed first-hand travel account of the region with woodcut illustrations by Reuwich, who accompanied Breydenbach on his journey. Ian Ehling, the new director of the Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts department, called this work “one of the most beautiful and important early books to be printed.”

“It is also the first book to be printed with folding plates,” Ehling said. “The views of Venice and Jerusalem, for instance, are large folding plates that were printed off multiple wood blocks and then pasted together. Because of the fragility of the folding plates this work is rarely found complete.”

Another significant item up for sale is the Basel 1494 edition of the De Insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis commonly called “The Columbus Letter on the Discovery of America.” The Columbus letter is a first-hand account of the discovery of the American continent, the most famous voyage ever undertaken. The book includes six beautiful woodcut illustrations that were the first depictions of the New World.

“This is the most important book in any Americana or Travel and Exploration collection,” Ehling said. “It is one of the earliest obtainable editions. We are offering the second illustrated edition which is of the greatest rarity. Only three other copies of this edition have been sold at auction in the past one hundred years. The only extant complete copy of the first illustrated edition is in the collection of the New York Public Library. “

Also for sale on September 26 is a sammelband, a book comprised of separately printed works later bound together, that contains three treatises written by Albrecht Dürer and designed for press toward the end of his life. The works include a treatise on perspective and proportion in drawing, painting, architecture, and letterforms; a treatise on fortification; and a treatise on the proportion of the human body. The sammelband is bound in a contemporary German binding.

“Dürer studied for several years in Italy,” Ehling said. “This sammelband contains three of his major works that introduced the Northern European audience to the Italian Renaissance principles of perspective and proportion.”

These works encompass major moments in Western history and chronicle periods of vast change in human thought and achievement. Important both for the impact of their contents upon the world, as well as for their significance as early printed texts, these rare books make unique additions to any collection.

Peggy Carouthers lives in North Carolina and is the editor of custom content at Journalistic Inc.