Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2012 Issue

Washington and Lincoln Dominate the Rooms

Gw-1789

George Washington's annotated copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights 1789

With all the bad news coming out of Washington, D. C. it is easy to think that all things Washington are in decline or at least under siege but it’s not so.  George continues to do very well.  Evidence of this was visible at 20 Rockefeller Center, in the auction rooms at Christie’s, where on Friday 22 the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union chased all bidders off the phones and out of the rooms as they pursued a remarkable piece of Americana, Washington’s personal copy of Acts of Congress, including the Constitution and draft Bill of Rights, a volume specially printed and bound for the President in 1789, his first year in office as first President of the United States.  They came to the sale with a somewhat larger budget than the estimated $2-3 million and needed to use most of it.  The high estimate of $3.0 million was, as is often the case at Christie’s, understated to encourage a broader audience to bid.  Serious bidders looked beyond the estimates to the prestige of owning a once-in-a-lifetime piece and sent the price all in to $9.8 million, the highest price ever paid for a piece of printed Americana.  One wonders who the under bidder is.
  

This copy, once the property of the Washington family, was sold at M. Thomas & Sons Auctioneers by Lawrence A. Washington in 1876.  It sold again in the rooms in the C. H. Hart sale at Thomas Birch’s Sons in Philadelphia in April 1892 for $1,150.  Years later it was acquired by the Heritage Foundation of Deerfield, Massachusetts and subsequently sold at Park-Bernet on November 17th, 1964 for $27,000 to George Sessler bidding on behalf of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr.   His heirs consigned it to Christie’s.
   

The significance and impact of the Washington provenance, its unique binding, impeccable condition and both his signature and notes made it a fitting best in the field.  Others copies come up although not with the extraordinary provenance or important annotations.  A more ordinary example but nevertheless very important copy was sold at the Laird Park sale in 2000 for $35,250.  That puts the premium on the Washington connection and its exceptional condition at 278 times.  That sounds about right.

The previous highest price paid for printed Americana at auction was the set of Audubon's [folio] birds that Christie's sold in 2000.  It brought $8,802,500

This leaves us only with dread for 2076 that the Mount Vernon Ladies Association may confront the next American centennial, access the excitement and be tempted to cash their chips.  If so, that transaction will be well north of $50 million.

As to mundane details of paying for the sale just concluded the Ladies will invariably pay by check or wire transfer but should they decide to further honor Washington by paying in cash with $1.00 bills the stack will be 321.52 feet high.  Assuming the same rate of appreciation between now and 2076 the next stack of will be at least 1,640.41 feet.

Another important item, a June 1864 copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of 45 signed by Lincoln and sold for $10 to raise money for the Civil War Relief Fund, was hammered down by Robert Siegel [usually stamp] Auction Galleries on Tuesday June 27th for $1.85 million plus hammer, $2.1 million all in.  It was co-marketed by Seth Kaller, the important Americana dealer.   David Rubenstein, managing director of The Carlyle Group investment firm, was the buyer.  It will be displayed in Washington, D. C. once an appropriate venue is identified.

Patriotism is apparently in.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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