Auctions | January 13, 2015

Bonhams Offers an Important Collection of Western Americana


San Francisco—Bonhams is pleased to announce it will hold its auction of Important Western Americana: Property of a Collector in California on February 9 at Bonhams in San Francisco. The auction is timed to coincide with the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair on February 7-8 in Oakland, and will preview as well in Los Angeles on January 31-February 1, coinciding with the Southern California Antiquarian Book, Print & Paper Fair.

A great many rare and important texts detailing the discovery of California lead the auction. Of particular note is the suppressed report of the Portolá Expedition—probably the rarest of all Californiana (est. $80,000-120,000). Written by Miguel Costanso, the report details the first exploration of Northern California by land, during which San Francisco Bay was discovered. Also on offer is 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 (est. $30,000-50,000).


Likely to attract great interest in the sale is the extremely rare Reglamento para el Bogierno de la Provincia de Californias (Mexico, 1784); being the first printed laws of Upper California it marks the secular beginning of the state (est. $120,000-180,000). The ordinances were issued by Felipe de Neve as Governor of the Californias in 1779, and concern the establishment of civil settlements, improvement of defense, anti-corruption measures, land claims and the reduction of missionaries. Only a handful of copies are known, and this one is in beautiful condition.

Another stand out lot is 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 (est. $80,000-120,000). 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, though he only completed this first part, which includes four magnificent hand-colored plates.

Among other important works of early Western exploration on offer is 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 (est. $30,000-50,000); and the first edition of the principal source of information on the Walker Expedition to California, which represented the first white men to discover the Yosemite Valley, written by Zenas Leonard in 1839 (est. $40,000-60,000).

Several of the auction's highlights pertain to the California Gold Rush. One is an important letter from Johann Augustus Sutter to Colonel John C. Fremont in 1847 regarding the use of Sutter's Fort during the annexation of California, written less than a year before the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill (est. $15,000-25,000). Also noteworthy is a scarce first edition of one of the first of many guidebooks aimed at gold rushers, written by J. Ely Sherwood in 1848 (est. $15,000-25,000). Another highlight is a nine-page autograph manuscript by Bret Harte titled "My Experiences as a Gold Digger," providing some of the best detail on how Harte first became acquainted with the mines and miners which figure so prominently in his most famous works (est. $10,000-15,000).

The sale also includes several important works relating to Native American tribes of the West. Among these are the stunning visual record provided by Karl Bodmer in a series of plates from the atlas accompanying Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied’s Travels in the Interior of North America (1841). On offer are six plates from the atlas, including Bodmer’s extraordinary hand-colored aquatint engraving of the Dog Society leader Pehriska-Ruhpa, in a stunning cap of magpie feathers and a turkey tail, mid-step during his dance, in the rare first state of the plate (est. $20,000-30,000). A publisher's presentation copy of George Catlin's O-Kee-Pa: A Religious Ceremony; and Other Customs of the Mandans (1867), will also be offered (est. $10,000-15,000). Catlin’s work is a thorough recounting of the ritual he witnessed only five short years before the Mandan tribe was decimated by smallpox in 1837, and this copy features the exceedingly rare “Folium Reservatum,” a three-page account of the highly sexually-explicit Bull Dance.

Bonhams’ Director of Fine Books & Manuscripts, Dr. Catherine Williamson, commented of the sale, “We are pleased to be offering a collection of this caliber and are delighted to see that interest in California and the West remains strong among collectors.”

Please visit to view the sale’s online catalogue.

First image: Audubon, John Woodhouse. Illustrated Notes of an Expedition through Mexico and California. Estimate $80,000-120,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Second image: [Reglamento] [The First Laws of California] Reglemento Para el Gobierno de la Provincia de Californias. Estimate $120,000-180,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.