Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2008 Issue

From eBay to Christies in 81 Days

Burn3

The Sandwich Islands


You have already read Chocolatepickle's description. Now let's read Christie's as it is given in Friday 5 December 2008 in New York: Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including Americana sale. It is lot 267:

LEDYARD, John (1751-1789). A Journal of Captain Cook's last voyage to the Pacific Ocean and in quest of a North-West Passage between Asia & America. Hartford, Conn.: Nathaniel Patten, 1783. Estimate $50,000 to $70,000

8o (172 x 116 mm). ENGRAVED FRONTISPIECE MAP: "Chart shewing the Tracks of the Ship's employed in Capt. Cook's last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779," 348 x 334 mm platemark (worn with some loss along lower border central horizontal fold and several tears repaired on verso with some minor loss to image). (Lacking text leaf V1, lower corners of last few gatherings a bit soiled.) Contemporary calf, red morocco lettering piece (some minor rubbing). Provenance: ink inscription on rear free endpaper: "5th May 1799--the Year for joining articles No 65 St Johns Street London"; Herbery Foreseter, Sketty Park (ink stamp on title, ink inscription dated 1873 on title and dated March 7th 1874 on front free endpaper).

THE FIRST COPY WITH A MAP TO APPEAR AT AUCTION SINCE THE STREETER SALE IN 1968. ONE OF THE RAREST ACCOUNTS OF COOK'S VOYAGES AND OF GREAT INTEREST TO THE HISTORY OF THE NORTHWEST COAST AND ITS EXPLORATION

FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST AMERICAN BOOK ON THE NORTHWEST COAST, AND THE FIRST AMERICAN BOOK ON HAWAII, originally issued in two parts in June and July 1783. This copy is bound from the parts, and exhibits stab-marks in signatures A-K (part I), varying stab-marks and none in V to the end (part II); the missing leaf is perhaps not coincidentally the first leaf of part 3 that is without stabmarks. The manuscript note on the rear fly leaf presumably records the date of binding the parts together into the present volume.

Ledyard served as a corporal of Marines on board the Resolution. He was one of the oarsmen on the boat Cook took ashore when he met his death on Hawaii. His journal, with all other journals, was retained by the Admiralty on the expeditions' return, but after jumping ship and returning to his family in Hartford, he was persuaded to re-write the journal (largely from memory) which was then published. Later in his career he made some remarkable overland journeys (largely on foot) and eventually accidentally killed himself in Cairo by drinking vitriol.

His journal is of special value in that it is a narrative of the only American who accompanied Captain Cook on his last voyage, which included several visits to Alaska. The book is extremely rare, and the map is even rarer: according to American Book Prices Current, no copy has appeared at auction in the last 30 years containing a genuine map.

The map is a close copy of the one appearing in John Rickman's journal (1781), though here the title is surrounded in a cartouche and there are many differences in spelling. Forbes notes, in relation to the map's rarity, that "The wrapper title of Part I does not mention its presence (although the main title does). Due to the erratic nature of American printing of the period, it may well be that the map was not produced until the work was well under way, or that it cost extra to purchasers, as some copies examined show no evidence that it was ever present. In the American Antiquarian Society copy, the map is bound on a stub at page 161 (the beginning of part III [and intriguingly the text leaf that is here lacking]). This appears to be added evidence that the map did not appear until the last part of the publication was issued."

CENSUS OF COPIES AT AUCTION WITH THE MAP:

1. George Brinley. Sold 1879, lot 2080. Sold for $5.
2. William C. Braislin. Small portion of the map containing the title, the rest in facsimile. Sold 1927, lot 1138. Sold for $115.
3.Thomas W. Streeter. His sale part VI, April 1969, lot 3477. The map backed with old linen repairing many long tears, half of left margin, with some print, torn off; four 1 to 2 cm. holes, affecting three words. Sold for $4,100. Now in the Hill Collection.

Of the 24 copies listed in the census in Forbes, only 5 have complete maps and one has a fragment.

Evans 17998; Forbes 52; Hill 991 (the Thomas W. Streeter copy, with the map); Howes L-181 ("d"); Lada-Mocarski 36; Mitchell Library Cook 1603; Sabin 39691 ("Very rare"); Smith 5797; Streeter sale VI:3477; Wickersham 6556.


We know that Christie's believes this book and its map is important because they took it on short notice making the trip from eBay to Christie's in what must be record time. And given that the catalog closed a month ago this means that before Mr. Burnley settled his credit card invoice this copy was on its way to New York for consideration. And now, just 81 days since Mr. Burnley clicked the buy-it-now button on eBay, someone else will almost certainly keep their paddle raised until this rare bounty falls to them. And in buying it they buy a very rare object in a highly competitive field and add their name to the Chocolatepickle-Burnley provenance. It will make a great story and become part of book collecting lore.

Best of luck.

Rare Book Monthly

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