A library of Hawaii and the South Pacific to be Sold
By Bruce McKinney
Bonhams & Butterfields recently posted an anonymous single owner sale of material on Hawaii and the South Pacific and scheduled it for April 6th. It will be conducted simultaneously in San Francisco and New York. For those with an interest in this area it warrants consideration. The consignor, with the subject in clear view, for twenty-five years let his gaze broaden to include an unusually tactile group of objects that connect the roughly 150 book lots with another 100 pamphlets, objects, framed and frame-able material. Among the materials offered are, by type: pamphlets, maps, engravings, books, coins & medals, globes, newspapers & magazines, autographed letters [ALS], art, ephemera, broadsides, photographs and a flag. There is an appealing obsessiveness to the collection and a sense it was fun to acquire.
Such collections today are increasingly easy, although never really easy, to build, but when this collection was under development it was certainly difficult. The collector, [whose name has been withheld and with whom I did not speak], according to Catherine Williamson, director of Fine Books and Manuscripts at Bonhams & Butterfield in Los Angeles, used all logical means by which to acquire: visiting book dealers, reading catalogues, attending shows, buying at auction and employing scouts. The outcome is a collection that both the collector and causal observer can appreciate. It helps of course that the subject is attractive and has been a collector focus for decades.
The presentation, befitting a collection that is strong on images and visually attractive material, has the look of a fine retail catalogue. Many auction houses convey information without transmitting enthusiasm. In this presentation enthusiasm is evident.
The books and sets, of which there are many, can be thoroughly compared with the historical and auction records in AE's primary database. The ephemera is more difficult to calculate. Unique material, sometimes even when less than perfect, tends to command substantial premiums. Unbound materials tend to be rarer than bound, single sheets [broadsides] more difficult to obtain than pamphlets. One of a kind objects are often worth a few more bids. You won't see them again except in your mind's eye on sleepless nights.
The miniature globes [lots 3026, 3148 and 3162], of which there are three, if you buy one or all, they are going to be endlessly examined. If you are thinking about displaying images bid for some of the loose examples rather than for a book or set of images. There is a special place in hell reserved for those who remove images from sets but if someone else had done it you are safe in the after-life [at least with respect to this issue]. Single images cost relatively more but you get to choose without guilt.
The flag of Hawaii, lot 3176, is a very appealing. Lot 3179 is "Archive of Letters, Maps, Sketches and Artifacts of the 19th Century" material collected by American Seaman Abel Huntington. It includes his observations, two sketches, a map and a canon ball. By the pound this may be the least expensive lot.
When I asked Ms. Williamson to point out material she brought my attention to lot 3079. It's listed as [Leverian Museum] and credited to George Shaw. It is a book containing selected specimens from the Museum of Sir Ashton Lever, an oh-so-serious collector. It contains 48 coloured plates. More were later published but this example is very attractive.