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 Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions