January 2018 | Jeremy Dibbell

Rare Books at Auction this Week

Freeman's auction house in Philadelphia hosts a sale of Books, Maps & Manuscripts on Wednesday, January 17, in 345 lots. An ex-library copy of an 1856 elephant folio publication containing chromolithographs of Tsar Alexander II's coronation, Description du Sacre et du couronnement de leurs majestes imperiales Alexandre II et l'Imperatrice Marie Alexandrovna, rates the joint highest estimate, at $25,000-40,000 (a copy in better condition sold at Christie's in 2009 for £58,850).

                                                                                                                                                                  Also estimated at $25,000-40,000 is an engraved map of the Chesapeake, the second state of this chart from John and William Norman's American Pilot. A 1789 George Washington letter to Edward Rutledge about Washington's appointment of Edward's brother John as a Supreme Court justice, is estimated at $20,000-30,000.

Cutbush book

An important piece of American publishing history (pictured) will be on the block at Freeman's: a manuscript subscription book for James Cutbush's The American Artist's Manual (Philadelphia, 1814). The volume records some 796 names, including Thomas Jefferson, Rembrandt Peale, and Alexander Wilson. It is estimated at $3,000-5,000.

                                                                                                                                                                  Sotheby's London hosts an auction titled Of Royal and Noble Descent on Wednesday (January 17) in 254 lots, featuring "fascinating heirlooms from aristocratic international families as well as objects related to noble and historical figures."

                                                                                                                                                                      At Sotheby's New York it is Americana Week, including a sale devoted to Fine Printed and Manuscripts Americana, Including Cartography on Wednesday, in 175 lots. A very nice copy of Ezekiel Russell's Salem broadside of the Declaration of Independence, printed by order of the Council of the Commonwealth, is estimated at $1,000,000-1,500,000. Just twenty copies of this printing are known.

                                                                                                                                                                  A very rare copy (in fact, the only known ever to appear at auction) of a 1784 congressional committee report proposing a plan (by Thomas Jefferson) for the government of American territories could fetch $250,000-350,000. The sheet contains marginal notations probably by Jefferson's fellow committee member David Howell, a delegate from Rhode Island. In the report, Jefferson proposes the abolition of slavery in the new territories as of the year 1800, a provision removed at the insistence of the South Carolina and Georgia delegations. Most of Jefferson's names for the states-to-be (Sylvania, Michigania, Cherronesus, Assenisipia, Metropotamia, Illinoia, Saratoga, Washington, Polypotamia, and Pelisipia) included in this report also went unrealized.

                                                                                                                                                                The sale is strong in views of the American West, including a copy of Ferdinand Hayden and Thomas Moran's The Yellowstone National Park (Boston: L. Prang and Company, 1876), a marvelous chromolithographic publication. This copy once belonged to collected Peter D. Peterson (1859-1933), and is estimated at $250,000-350,000.

                                                                                                                                                                         Among the many maps is a manuscript "Plan of the Road from Boston to Penobscott Bay" on vellum, created in 1765 by surveyor Francis Miller for Sir Francis Bernard, governor of Massachusetts and passed by descent through the Bernard family. The catalog copy describes this as one of "the earliest American road maps," and it is estimated at $120,000-150,000.

                                                                                                                                                                            The Sotheby's sale also includes an octavo edition of Aududon's Birds of America ($35,000-45,000) and a 1584 New Testament interleaved and annotated by early Cambridge, MA minister Peter Bulkeley ($30,000-40,000).

                                                                                                                                                                      The rest of Sotheby's Americana Week sales include about a dozen plates from Audubon's Birds of America, including the Meadow Lark ($18,000-24,000) and the Purple Heron ($12,000-18,000).

                                                                                                                                                                        Rounding out the week--and perhaps your best chance for a bargain--is the Books and Ephemera sale at National Book Auctions on January 20 (298 lots). An interesting mixed bag of things to be had in this one.

                                                                                                                                                                        Image credit: Freeman's