Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2016 Issue

From Champlain to Boissel de Monville, A travel books sale in Paris.

1398e8f6-8924-4eac-bf6f-95722d219587

M. Courvoisier.

Samuel Champlain was in Paris the other day, and since he had come with his iconic map of New France, many people came to see him. In fact, the showroom at Drouot was overcrowded with various travellers from the past centuries, and with as many booksellers. Rare Book Hub attended the meeting and collected the figures. Welcome on board of the Binoche et Giquello’s sale of November 16, 2016!

 

Travel books sales are not that many nowadays, especially those made up of a same book collection. “This was a family-owned collection,” confirms Odile Caule from the auction house Binoche et Giquello. “It comes from the castle of Menneval, Eure. Except one: Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale (Paris, 1632) by Champlain, as stated in the catalogue.” The expectations were not that high despite a very attractive list of books. First, because travel books have greatly suffered from the “old book crisis”—“I wouldn’t say so,” retorts the optimistic Rodolphe Chamonal, who’s been selling travel books for the past 30 years. “The market is sort of stable, now. The problem with this interesting sale is the condition of the books. Many of them need to be restored, and it costs money.” The expert for the sale, Dominique Courvoisier, made it clear from the start: “These books haven’t been properly stored and taken care of. Moisture made their pages crispy, and, at one point, the bindings have been waxed with Baranne, a cheap wax for shoes! The effect on gildings was terrible, and the hinges are quite fragile.

 

Castle business

 

Yet, castle collections hold a special place in the hearts of collectors, and this one featured a lot of classics—and a few treasures. “We have a handful of them bound in full morocco, like Acuna’s Relation de la rivière des Amazones (Paris, 1682) or Knox’ Relation du voyage de l’île de Ceylan (Paris, 1789). Fortunately, they were stored in another place, and have suffered less,” confesses M. Courvoisier. Travel books in such bindings are very rare—“they were bound for one of the “grands curieux (great curious)”, a group of bibliophilists from the early 18th century, who ordered gorgeous and unusual bindings.” Rodolphe Chamonal states: “These ones will probably go way over the appraisal, and will be bought by some fortunate collectors, who will probably never see another copy of the like in their lives.” Among the other stars of the sale were two copies of Champlain’s historical voyages in North America. The first one (Paris, 1613), relates the second expedition of the French explorer, but it came without the famous map—it was estimated between 20 and 25,000 euros (before the buyer costs of 27%), and it went for 58,540 euros (buyer costs included). The second one (Paris, 1632) regroups all the expeditions of Champlain. It is bound in full vellum, and contains the iconic “general map” of New France (Canada). “In a time when it was necessary for a European country which claimed the ownership of a land to prove that it had explored it, this map drawn by Champlain himself enabled the French to claim the region of Acadia and the valley of the Saint-Laurent River,” reads the catalogue. The huge map, at the crossroad of knowledge and ignorance, is a moving testimony of the time—and a graphic beauty. The appraisal of 100,000 euros was a little bit high, according to M. Chamonal, who reminded us that three copies of Champlain’s book were recently sold in New York—and that book lovers who can afford such a book are not that many. It was nonetheless sold for 124,460 euros. The Acuna, though missing the map of the Amazon River, was sold for 16,510 euros (appraisal 3,000 euros), and the Knox for 15,850 euros.

 

Condition comes second?

 

All booksellers from Paris attended the sale—even the people from Binoche et Giquello seemed surprised. The condition of the books worried M. Courvoisier—“curiously, it did not discourage the buyers,” he said after the sale. Indeed, a manuscript of Le Roman de la rose from the 14th century, though missing a full set of pages, was sold for 63,500 euros, while “one of the nicest books ever published about the Ottoman empire” (catalogue), Nicolay’s Les Quatre premiers livres des navigations... (Lyon, 1568), went for 57,150 euros (appraisal 40 to 50,000 euros); the hand-coloured engravings were gorgeous, indeed, but one of them was missing. On the contrary, the Wytfliet’s Histoire universelle des Indes Occidentales (Douai, 1607) featured all the maps called for, but the frontispiece of the second part was missing—it went for 18,412 euros. “We’re quite happy about this sale,” confesses M. Courvoisier. “We generated 620,000 euros where we didn’t expect more than 430,000.” As a matter of fact, even the off catalogue books, sold separately at the end of the sale, made very good prices. “This I can hardly explain,” says M. Courvoisier. I mean... Most of them were in a very poor condition or incomplete... Yet, they were bought by professional booksellers.” Travel books might have been given up for dead a little bit too fast.

 

The few unsold books (see below) were returned to the family. Among them was a modest book, which indeed went unnoticed—except by M. Courvoisier. It is always interesting to ask an expert to point out their favourite book in a sale. After all these years, and all these books, they often choose the most peculiar ones. “Take this one,” he says, handing me a copy of Boissel de Monville’s Voyage pittoresque (...) sur une partie du Rhône (Paris, An III-1795). This French traveller did not go to the ends of the Earth to discover some unknown region, he sailed the Rhône Riversaid to be partly non navigable at the time.” And he joined 17 engravings to his work. “Look at them,” whispers M. Courvoisier. “They are so unusual, so... bizarre. He drew them himself, and his style is unique for the period. And take a look at these sceneries,” he goes on while leafing through the modest book, “you’d bet you’re in the middle of the Wild West... but no, this is the Rhône River!” An untold story, as nobody bought it despite the low starting price of 200 euros.

 

This sale was interesting because it proved that travel books are still attractive to many, and that “exceptional copies” are not the only ones to reach good prices.

 

The prices quoted in this article are buyer costs included. We link to the catalogue (PDF) and the results of the sale—forwarded by the auction house. “The numbers which are not listed correspond to the books that did not sell,” underlines Binoche et Giquello.

 

Thibault Ehrengardt

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>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions