Earliest Book Printed in the Americas Featured in Swann Galleries’ Auction of Latin Americana on Nov. 6


New York—On Thursday, November 6, Swann Galleries will auction The Latin Americana Library of Dr. W. Michael Mathes-an extensive collection of early books and pamphlets, most printed in colonial Latin America, plus a selection of important early European books on the region.

Dr. W. Michael Mathes was an American historian who wrote prolifically on the history and bibliography of Spanish America, with a particular interest in the history of California. In a biography written by Brian Dervin Dillon, Ph.D and printed at the beginning of the auction catalogue, Mathes is described as having been fascinated with the history of Mexico from an early age, exploring Baja California on his own by the time he was 13. He studied history at Loyola Marymount University, received his masters in history from the University of Southern California and his Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico.

Mathes taught at the University of San Francisco for nearly 30 years. Dillon describes Mathes as “loved and celebrated by his fellow scholars in Mexico and in Spain,” but comments that he never got his deserved recognition in the United States. He was awarded of the Order of the Aztec Eagle in 1985, the highest honor given to foreigners in Mexico, and in 2005 he was appointed to the Order of Isabel la Catolica in Spain, an honor seldom bestowed upon non-Spaniards. In the early 1990s Mathes donated a large portion of his collection to the Colegio de Jalisco, in Zapopan, Mexico-the institution later named the library after Mathes. Over the course of his career Mathes wrote at least 25 published books and co-authored several more. 

The auction opens with a run of 163 lots of European books about Latin America, dating from the late-15th through the 19th centuries. Arte, y vocabulario de la lengua Lule, y Tonocote is a 1732 first edition grammar, dictionary and catechism of the now extinct Lule or Tonocoté language that was spoken in what is now northern Argentina. Written by Antonio Machoni de Cerdeña and printed in Madrid, the volume has never before been seen at auction (Estimate: $12,000 to $18,000). Also printed in Spain are Noticia de la California by Miguel Venegas, 1757-a first edition of the first history of California; and Imagen del mundo, sobre la esfera, cosmographia, y geografia, teorica de planetas, y are de navegar, a 1626 navigation and astronomy textbook by Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado, an early explorer who claimed to have discovered the Northwest Passage through the semi-mythical Strait of Anián (each $6,000 to $9,000).

Among English-language editions is A Relation of the Invasion and Conquest of Florida by the Spaniards, translated from Portuguese and published in London, 1686 ($7,000 to $10,000).

The top lot of the auction comprises several pages of manuscript promissory notes signed by Sebastián Vizcaíno in Japan in 1612. Vizcaíno was a Spanish soldier and diplomat who figures prominently in the early exploration of California. He named San Diego during a 1602 mapping expedition, and in 1611 became the first Spanish diplomat to visit Japan. When tensions mounted between the two countries in 1612, Vizcaíno made preparations to leave, but needed funding for repairs to his ships. The promissory notes were a means to that end, and were discussed in an article Michael Mathes published in 1990, titled A Quarter-Century of Trans-Pacific Diplomacy: New Spain and Japan, 1592-1617 ($100,000 to $150,000).

Another manuscript documents Sebastian Rodríguez Cermeño’s contract with an Acapulco merchant to purchase goods in Manila in 1586 ($30,000 to $40,000). Cermeño is known for this voyage, in which he sailed the Santa Ana from Acapulco to Manila. During his return trip, English privateer Sir Thomas Cavendish, intercepted the ship, made off with all cargo and held Cermeño captive. These are the only manuscript documents by either Vizcaíno or Cermeño known to come to auction.


There are a number of books published in Latin America prior to 1640, the year the Bay Psalm Book (thought of as the first book printed in America), was made. Among these are Ludovico Bertonio’s Vocabulario de la lengua aymara, a first edition of the first Spanish-Aymara dictionary, printed in Peru in 1612 ($20,000 to $30,000); Speculum conjugiorem by Alonso de la Veracruz, a first edition of the first book on marriage written and published in the New World, Mexico, 1556 ($6,000 to $9,000) and Bartholomé de Ledesma’s De septem novae legis sacramentis summarium, a treatise explainging seven sacraments for use in the Mexican church, 1566 ($40,000 to $60,000).

The auction will take place Thursday, November 6 at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The items will be on public exhibition Saturday, November 1, from noon to 5 p.m.; and Monday, November 3 through Wednesday, November 5, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. An illustrated catalogue, with information on bidding by mail or fax, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at www.swanngalleries.com.

For further information, and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Rick Stattler by telephone at (212) 254-4710, extension 27, or email: rstattler@swanngalleries.com.

Online bidding is available via Invaluable.com.

First image: Promissory notes signed in Japan by Sebastián Vizcaino, the first Spanish diplomat visit that country, September 1612. Estimate $100,000 to $150,000. At auction November 6.

Second image: Bartholomé de Ledesma, De septem novae legis sacramentis summarium, first edition, Mexico, 1566. Estimate $40,000 to $60,000. At auction November 6.

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