Auctions | June 4, 2013

Franklin’s Lost Expedition Comes Alive at Bonhams New York

NEW YORK — Bonhams will feature the heralded Arctic Library of Dr William Priester in the auction titled Northwest America & the Arctic to be held June 25. The collection includes a treasure trove of material concerning the search for Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition — famed Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin set out to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage in 1845, but his ships became icebound in the Victoria Straight and Franklin and his crew of 128 men vanished. Pressed by Lady Franklin, in 1848 the Admiralty began an extensive search for the crew, one of the largest rescue operations in history and almost certainly the one with the most far-reaching results in terms of cartographic discovery. 

Organized into 110 lots, Dr. Priester’s library of over 1000 volumes contains many key Franklin search accounts, most of which are illustrated with maps, lithographs, engravings, or photographs. One exceptional assemblage on offer is the “Arctic Blue Books,” a six-volume compilation of British Parliamentary papers related to Arctic exploration (est. $40,000-60,000). This grouping includes significant details regarding the Franklin expedition and subsequent search efforts. The most complete set to come to auction to date, these blue books were created to inform authorities, and are considered the single most important primary source for Arctic studies.

Several Franklin search expeditions became well known in their own right. The McClure Arctic expedition of 1850 is distinguished as the voyage during which Robert McClure became the first person to confirm and transit the Northwest Passage by a combination of sea travel and brutal sledging. In addition to first editions of both McClure’s and his second-in-command’s narratives, Bonhams will offer a rare album of eight chromolithographs after sketches made on the fateful journey by the Investigator’s Lieutenant Cresswell (est. $25,000-35,000). 

Along with the fascinating Franklin search material, many fine first editions from earlier and later Arctic explorations will also be up for auction. William Goldson’s very rare work on the Northwest Passage, published in Portsmouth 1793, contains a large folding map with significant inaccuracies around Hudson’s Bay and western Canada, revealing the tremendous strides made by 19th century explorers (est. $25,000-35,000).  Also, an important collection of striking colored plates depicting birds, reptiles, fish and mammals, made in 1825-28 during Frederick Beechey’s command of the HMS Blossom’s journey from the Pacific to the Bering’s strait, shows the significant advancements in naturalism facilitated by 19th century sea exploration (est. $10,000-15,000).

“Collectors are delighted to see Dr. Priester’s Arctic library at auction,” noted Christina Geiger, the Director of the Fine Books & Manuscripts Department at Bonhams New York. “It contains numerous high spots as well as little-known rarities and treasures, all focused on one of the most thrilling of human endeavors: the traversal of the Arctic and the eventual attainment of the North Pole. The books are in immaculate condition and demonstrate great strides in the book arts; the volumes are often bound in colorful pictorial cloth with ornate Victorian designs and lavishly illustrated with frequent wood-engravings, fine mezzotints, tinted and hand-colored lithographs and large folding maps.” 

Bonhams Northwest America & the Arctic auction, including the Library of Dr William Priester, will take place on June 25 in New York. The sale will preview at Bonhams from June 21-24. 

A fully illustrated catalog is available at