Christie’s to Auction Newton’s <i>Principia</i>, Pearl Harbor Map, and the Kelmscott Printing Press December 6
New York—On December 6, Christie's New York will present nearly 200 works for sale in Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts, including Americana, led by an extremely rare first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, bound for King James II in 1687 with his royal cypher “JR” (estimate: $400,000 - $600,000), and a detailed, hand-drawn map of the attack on Pearl Harbor by flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida for a post-battle briefing (estimate: $400,000 - $600,000). The sale offers a rare opportunity to own the Albion printing press (estimate: $100,000 - $150,000) used by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press to produce the 1896 edition of Chaucer’s Works, esteemed as “the finest book since Gutenberg.” The Americana portion of the sale includes George Washington’s personal letter seal in a gold fob setting (estimate: $200,000 - $250,000) and a detailed account of a group of slaves, hand-written by the first President, that has been handed down through generations of the same family (estimate: $250,000 - $300,000). Rare autograph letters from Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Richard Nixon are also on offer.
Rare and Important Book with a Royal Cypher and Provenance
Considering the brevity of King James II’s reign, any book from his library bearing his royal cypher would be sought after by bibliophiles for its extreme rarity. This first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (estimate: $400,000 - $600,000), is even more rare, as no other copy of Newton’s Principia bound in contemporary morocco has been sold at auction in nearly 50 years, according to American Book Prices Current. Printed in 1687 for the Royal Society with the financial support of Sir Edmund Halley, Newton’s ground-breaking work on the principles of bodies in motion was dedicated to King James II, who was the Society’s patron. It was imprinted with his royal cypher: a crowned “JR” in gold. In his Principia, Newton shows how gravity would cause a planet to move in an ellipse about the sun as focus, as well as offers a synthesis of the cosmos and proves its physical unity.
“Remember Pearl Harbor!”
Of keen interest to historians studying World War II is the hand-drawn map of the attack on Pearl Harbor (estimate: $400,000 - $600,000) made by the Japanese flight commander, Mitsuo Fuchida. This map was employed in Fuchida’s briefing of the Emperor on December 26, 1941, according to his autobiography, For That One Day. Please see the related release.
The Press That Made “The Finest Book Since Gutenberg”
In 1896, William Morris’s Kelmscott Press elevated modern fine press publishing to a high art when it produced a small run, 438 copies, of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones. It took a superior printing press to do it—the Floor model Albion Press No. 6551, made by Hopkinson & Cope in 1891 (estimate: $100,000 - $150,000)—which produced what is today considered one of the most beautifully printed books, “the finest book since Gutenberg,” according to book collector and author Colin Franklin. The press is still functional, and there are only two like it, both in the U.K.
The Chaucer is the supreme achievement of the 40-year artistic collaboration between Morris and Burne-Jones, who famously referred to it as “a pocket cathedral ? it is so full of design.” Morris had the press reinforced with iron bands to keep the staple from cracking under the extra pressure required to print the heavy forms of this monumental book.
Washington’s Personal Seal
Originally passed down through several generations of the Washington family, George Washington’s personal seal, with his coat-of-arms engraved in oval carnelian set in a gold flaring mount (estimate: $200,000 - $250,000), returns to sale at Christie’s after nearly 30 years in a private collection. A personal seal, in Washington’s day, was widely used to ensure the privacy of personal letters and as a means of certification of documents to which it was affixed. The designs were engraved in intaglio on carnelian, a relatively soft mineral. The handles themselves were often turned in wood, ivory, silver or gold. Some seals featured a loop to be attached to a chain when not in use. This seal may well be the one depicted in several portraits of
Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828); see, for example, Washington at Dorchester Heights, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Signed by George Washington, Autograph Document, 4 Pages, Constituting a Detailed List of 40 Slaves
Emerging after many generations in the recipient’s family is a document handwritten by George Washington five months before his death that reveals a fascinating record of his attempt to cope with the complications relating to the status of a portion of the slaves at Mount Vernon. In 1786, he had leased from a neighbor, Mrs. Penelope Manley French, 500 acres of land, which included the labor of a group of slaves, whom he proposes to return to her control. On July 15, 1799, he wrote a letter to her son-in-law, Benjamin Dulany, explaining his motives. Long since separated from the letter (a copy of which has been preserved at the New York Public Library), this four-page list, in excellent condition (estimate: $250,000 - $300,000), shows that Washington devoted considerable time to observe and document the individuals in question. They are organized into four columns: nine men, nine women, six “Boys & girls who Work in the Crops,” and sixteen “Children,” for a grand total of 40. The particular skills and physical condition of the adult slaves are carefully recorded.
At various points during his public career, Washington considered the prospects for gradual, legislative abolition of slavery, and also pondered paths he himself might take, as a slave-owner, to resolve the contradiction of his own position. By July 1799, when he compiled the full census of slaves at Mount Vernon, his and Martha’s joint property was found to include 316 persons, at least a third of whom were to young or too old to work. “Washington himself owned only 123 of Mount Vernon’s 316 slaves; for others were rented [the present group]; the rest were the property of the Custis estate *Martha’s dowry+.” Ironically, Washington “could free his own people but he could not touch the dower slaves” (H. Wiencek, An Imperfect God, p. 354).
Personal Letters and Book Manuscripts
Because most presidential correspondence in the modern era was typed, lot 44 represents one of the greatest rarities of presidential autographs—a Nixon autograph letter, signed while President with a personally addressed envelope (estimate: $30,000 - $50,000), to one of the major Watergate figures, former chief domestic policy advisor, John Ehrlichman. He and chief of staff H. R. Haldeman were arguably the most powerful figures in the administration after the President. On April 30, 1973, Nixon fired Ehrlichman, Haldeman, and White House counsel John Dean for their role in Watergate. In this letter, just seven weeks later, a wounded Nixon tries to be encouraging: “I’m sure you know how much I miss Bob and you. No President ever had two more able & loyal advisers. I feel for you both in this difficult time.” Only one other Nixon autograph letter as President has appeared at auction.
The sale also features a remarkable letter from Thomas Jefferson (estimate: $50,000 - $70,000) written in 1823 in response to a request for a copy of his books for a library. He modestly explains, "I have never published any work but the Notes on Virginia, of which I have but a single copy, and they are now very rarely
to be found." All his other writings "have been of an official character, and are only to be found among the public documents of the times in which I have lived." Letters of Jefferson discussing this classic book are rare; only two others have appeared at auction in the last 40 years. In the same sale is a rare first edition of Notes on the State of Virginia, (estimate: $100,000 - $150,000), one of only 200 copies printed in 1782 for Jefferson’s friends. This one belonged to the Coolidge family, direct descendants of Thomas Jefferson.
And a letter written by James Madison (estimate: $40,000 - $60,000) as former President to James Barbour, serves as a timely reminder that our system of government has withstood divisions similar to those it faces today. Dated Dec. 18, 1828, the letter discusses the recent election of Andrew Jackson and the looming nullification crisis between the administration and South Carolina over the 1828 "Tariff of Abominations" (as Southerners called it), that divided Northerners and Southerners. Madison expresses confidence that a resolution of the crisis “will satisfy [i.e., answer] our illwishers abroad that our free system of Government, however liable to local & acute maladies, has a chronic health & vigor that is sure to expel the cause of them.”
Auction: Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana 6 December 2013
Viewing: Christie’s Rockefeller Galleries 30 November - 5 December