Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2008 Issue

From eBay to Christies in 81 Days

Burn1

A rare chart


By Bruce McKinney

UPDATE: December 5, 2008

The book described in this article sold at Christies in New York for $52,500.



Michael Burnley is a Southern California Bookseller with a Beverly Hills business address, a penchant for research and the luck of Bishamon, the Japanese deity of good fortune. A few months back his diligence and luck paid off handsomely as he scanned eBay listings over a Saturday night and came across a rare book that included an even rarer map. This copy of "A Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage..." Hartford, 1783, the first American book on Hawaii, is a printing that occasionally comes up. What was different about this copy is that it contained the often absent, preternaturally rare and important map - "Chart fhewing the Tracks of the Ships employed in Cap.t Cook's laft Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779". It was offered by eBay seller chocolatepickle37 and was cheap: BP 1,299 or US$2322. Here is the listing as it appeared on eBay in September.

A Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage To The Pacific Ocean, and In Quest of A North-West Passage, Between Asia & America; Performed in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778 and 1779. Illustrated with a Chart, shewing the tracts of the ships employed in this expedition. Faithfully narrated from the original MS of Mr John Ledyard. 1st edition, published in Hartford, in 1783.

Ledyard was born in Groton, Connecticut and attended Dartmouth College in the UK. In 1773 he left the college and decided to travel, so he shipped as a common seaman on a year-long trading voyage to Gibraltar, the Barbary Coast, and the Caribbean. On his next voyage he jumped ship in England, but was eventually impressed and forced to join the British Navy as a Marine. He joined Captain Cook's last voyage, and was onboard ship when Cook met his death on Hawaii. He was also with Cook during the first part of the American Revolution. Assigned to the North American station, he deserted and returned to Hartford, where this account was published in 1783.

The book is bound in contemporary full sheep, spine with 5 raised bands and morocco title lable, ink scribbling on front free endpaper, and ink inscriptions on rear endpaper and rear pastedown. Previous owners inscription and stamp on title page, folding map has several repaired tears and is frayed at the edges, contents grubby and with occasional minor staining, binding with some markings but in solid condition.

The book has been collated and is complete.

Only 2 other copies have been found for sale worldwide, and priced respectively at £8500 ($15000) and £13000 ($25000). Both these copies are lacking the original map which is present in our copy.

One of the rarest of subsidiary accounts of Cook's voyage, and a book of the greatest interest in the history of the Northwest Coast and its exploration.


This is indeed a rare book and the seller knew it as she mentions two copies without the map [there are currently three] on line and acknowledges their much higher prices. She describes the copy as "complete" but it's not. It's missing the 161-162 leaf. Nevertheless she prices her copy as "impaired" compared to the online listings she references. It's all in fact rather confusing.

So why did she price her copy, which contained the rare map, so reasonably? There seem to be two explanations. The first is that, according to Mr. Burnley who asked, she bought her copy for a song at a country auction. The second reason is probably that her copy didn't look very good to her. The English have high standards for condition and this copy can be charitably described as unsophisticated. This is an early American printing however and subject to different interpretation on this side of the pond. The only relevant comparison is to other copies of the same book. The book is, by standard calculation, below par, the map intriguing and probably comparatively exceptional.

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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