Auctions | February 11, 2015

Bonhams Holds Record-Breaking Western Americana Auction in San Francisco

San Francisco—Bonhams' auction of Important Western Americana: Property of a Collector in California achieved more than $1.8 million on February 9 at Bonhams in San Francisco. The auction's top 10 lots all exceeded their pre-sale estimates, many by two or three times, as a result of spirited bidding in the auction room, over the phones and online by participants from around the world.

The extremely rare Reglamento para el Bogierno de la Provincia de Californias (Mexico, 1784), the first printed laws of Upper California, led the auction. It achieved $197,000, past its estimate of $120,000-180,000. The ordinances were issued by Felipe de Neve as Governor of the Californias in 1779, and concern the first establishment of civil settlements like Los Angeles and San Jose.

The suppressed report of the Portolá Expedition - perhaps the rarest of all Californiana, was also a noteworthy sell, taking in $125,000. Written by Miguel Costanso, the report details the first exploration of Northern California by land, during which San Francisco Bay was discovered. Also of note in the sale was the advance report attributed to Gaspar de Portolá himself, which represents the first printed account of the founding of Monterey, and is one of fewer than 10 copies known to exist. It achieved $97,500, past a $30,000-50,000 estimate.

The first edition of the principal source of information of the Walker expedition to California, written by Zenas Leonard in 1839, also performed well in the sale, bringing $125,000 - far past a $40,000-60,000 estimate. Leonard joined the expedition in 1833. They crossed the Sierra Nevada and spent the winter in Monterey; on the way they descended the divide between the Merced and Tuolumne rivers and were the first white men to encounter the Yosemite valley. 

A hand-colored copy of the superlatively rare Illustrated Notes of an Expedition Through Mexico and California (1852) by John Woodhouse Audubon, the son and collaborator of John James Audubon, was also quite successful in the sale, bringing $137,000, ahead of an $80,000-120,000 estimate. J.W. Audubon had an ambitious plan to illustrate his travels overland through Texas and Northern Mexico to California during the gold rush year of 1849, but his enterprise failed and he only completed this first part, which includes four magnificent hand-colored plates.

Other highlights included Lorenzo D. Aldrich's Journal of the Overland Route to California and the Goldmines (1851), that took in $81,250 - past an estimate of $25,000-35,000; and an extremely fine first edition of The Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie of Kentucky (1831), the first book to narrate an overland expedition to California. It sold for $75,000, ahead of a $30,000-50,000 estimate.

Bonhams’ Director of Fine Books & Manuscripts, Dr. Catherine Williamson, commented of the sale, “What a phenomenal sale! The top 13 lots all achieved record-breaking prices, with many more items also setting records. I think we’ve shown that the Western Americana market is still a vibrant one.”

To view more of the auction's results, please visit