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Boston Public Library Returns a Manuscript, a Leaf, and a Book to Italy

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Chronicles of Narnia, Virginia, and Greece

Washington at Work and Play

The Journal of Major George Washington and Washington’s copy of The Beauties of Swift, each $104,500 at Sotheby’s New York on October 15.

The American edition of this book did not contain this Map of the Western parts of the Colony of Virginia, a folding engraved frontispiece map, partially handcolored. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

When this work was published in England in 1754, the young Washington was serving with—not fighting against—the British army, and his journal is an intelligence report relating to the early stages of the French and Indian War. It records his meetings with French forces on the Ohio and contacts with the Indian peoples west of the Alleghenies that he had made at the instructions of Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia.

His report had had been first published in Williamsburg earlier that same year, but this scarce English edition contains a map not found in the US version.

Washington’s signed personal copy of The Beauties of Swift. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

This was part of the ongoing dispersal of the James S. Copley library, and among other appealing Washington lots was a book from his own Mount Vernon library that matched the Journal for price.

Although he did own a copy of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, there were few other volumes of contemporary literature on Washington’s shelves, but here, signed on the title page by the great man, was a 1782 copy of The Beauties of Swift: or, the Favorite Offspring of Wit & Genius.

A contemporary estate appraisal had valued this little book at just fifty cents (and a companion volume on the Beauties of Sterne at seventy-five cents), but values have changed a little since then—not least since this book last came to auction in 1891.

Quick Returns on Las Casas

Complete Set of the Indian Tracts of Bartolomé de las Casas, Euros 120,0000 ($166,095) at Gonnelli/Casa d’Aste of Florence on October 8.

The title page of Las Casas’ Indian Tracts in red and black ink, with a four-part woodcut border that incorporates the arms of Spain. Courtesy of Gonnelli/Casa d’Aste.

Bishop of Chiapa and ‘Apostle of the Indians,’ the Dominican priest Las Casas campaigned throughout his life for better treatment of the indigenous American peoples by their Spanish conqueror, which inflicted appalling atrocities on those they had subdued. Beginning in the 1540s, he wrote a series of eight tracts on the theme—all of them printed for the first time in Seville in the years 1552-53.

Less that a year ago, in a December 2009, Bloomsbury New York sale of Bruce McKinney’s ‘De Orbo Novo’ collection on the early years of exploration in the New World, a very rare complete first edition set of these tracts that McKinney had bought for $42,500 from the Librairie Thomas-Scheler of Paris in 1995, came back to auction to sell for $134,200.

The usual rule is that a quick return to auction is not a good financial move, but less than a year later that same set, bound in seventeenth-century speckled calf, and once in the old Scottish collection of Andrew Fletcher, came back up for sale in Italy.

It proved to have been a very good short-term investment indeed, with the set increasing in value by more than $3000 each month!

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