Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2015 Issue

Western Americana: Bonhams Delivers the Goods in February

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Select items from Bonhams' Feb. 9th sale of western Americana

Coinciding with the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair taking place the same week, Bonhams is hosting an auction containing 151 lots of Important Western Americana: Property of a Collector in California on Monday, February 9th, 2015. Both events are taking place in San Francisco. With important works on western exploration, as well as the Gold Rush and Native Americans, this is a can’t miss sale for collectors and dealers focused on western Americana.

The sale opens with a significant amount of texts on the discovery of California, and the material ranges from the extremely rare and possibly worth over $100,000, to a less wallet-impacting $10,000 and under. Lot 3, Miguel Costanso’s Diario Histórico de los viages de mar, y tierra hechos al norte de la California… (est. $80,000-120,000), known as the suppressed report of the Portolá Expedition, is considered one of, if not the rarest of all known Californiana. The text contains details of the first exploration of Northern California by land and includes the discovery of San Francisco Bay. Another important Portolan item is also for sale. Lot 2, Estracto de noticias de Puerto de Monterrey…, attributed to Gaspar de Portolá himself (est. $30,000-50,000), is the first printed account of the founding of Monterey, itself the first European settlement in Northern California.

In terms of somewhat less expensive items, lot 1 is an interesting lot, especially for collectors of California maps. Miguel Venegas’ Noticia de la California, y de su conquista temporal, y espiritual hasta el tiempo presente… (est. $8,000-12,000), is the first edition and first issue of the first history of California. While the text is mainly composed of information from Venegas’ 1739 work, this printing contains four maps of particular value. 

Other significant, standout items are numerous and varied. At Lot 6, the first printed laws of California are available as Felipe de Neve’s Reglamento para el Gobierno de la Provincia de Californias… (est. $120,000-180,000). The copy included in the sale is a fine copy of the first edition and is extremely rare. These laws were the groundwork for California law until American occupation. Lot 18 lists James O. Pattie’s The Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie of Kentucky, during an Expedition from St. Louis… (est. $30,000-50,000), being the first printed narrative of an overland expedition to California. And under lot 99, John Woodhouse Audubon, son of John James, is represented with his Illustrated Notes of an Expedition Through Mexico and California (est. $80,000-120,000), including four hand-colored lithographed plates.

For material related to the California Gold Rush, Bonhams has highlighted several items in the sale’s press release. Lot 45, a Letter Signed by Johann August Sutter to John C. Fremont (est. $15,000-25,000), discusses the use of Sutter’s Fort during California’s annexation and was written less than a year prior to the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. Lot 50, J. Ely Sherwood’s California: Her Wealth and Resources; With Many Interesting Facts Respecting the Climate and People… (est. $15,000-25,000), is a rare first edition of one of the first publications on the discovery of gold and served as a guide for prospectors. One of the most fascinating items related to this period is lot 111. A nine-page manuscript, entitled “My Experiences as a Gold Digger” written by a man named Bret Harte (est. $10,000-15,000), is a gem of a firsthand account of what it was like during the Gold Rush.

As was said in the opening paragraph, material pertaining to western Native Americans are also a significant draw for the sale. Karl Bodmer, the renowned and important artist known for his depictions of the West, has a set of individual plates originating from the atlas that accompanies Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied’s Travels in the Interior of North America from 1841. They are available as lots 21 through 26, varying in estimate from $1,000-2,000 to $20,000-30,000. Additionally, George Catlin’s O-Kee-Pa: A Religious Ceremony; and Other Customs of the Mandans (est. $10,000-15,000), an account of his firsthand perspective of the Mandan ritual, is available as lot 143.

All in all, Important Western Americana: Property of a Collector in California looks to be a successful and important sale for western Americana. The entire sale’s catalogue may be viewed on Bonham’s website. To register, please follow the link available in the top left quadrant of the catalogue’s page.

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