Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2009 Issue

Two Major Sales at Christie's, New York, December 4

Christiewashletr

George Washington writes his nephew Bushrod concerning the proposed new constitution.


By Michael Stillman

Christie's in New York has two important book auctions scheduled for Friday, December 4, one a single owner sale. Along with books they will be offering manuscripts and maps at the sales.

The kick-off begins at 10:00 a.m. with The William E. Self Library Part II: Important English and American Literature. William Self began his career as an actor in 1945, but he made his mark as a television producer. Among the notable series he produced were MASH, Julia, Batman, and Lost in Space (Danger, Will Robinson!). Along the way, Self put together one of the more important collections of English and American literature in private hands. Last year, Christie's conducted Part I of the sale, a library of Dickens material. This latest sale will include 198 items from Poe, Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Melville, Carroll, Stevenson, and Whitman, among others.

Topping the Self sale is the extremely rare first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's first book, Tamerlane, published in 1827. Only 12 copies are known to exist, just two in private hands. The estimate is $500,000-$700,000. A copy of Charles Dickens' The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, inscribed by Dickens to Hans Christian Andersen, is estimated at $200,000-$300,000. A couple of Charlotte Bronte items are most notable - a manuscript of her verses estimated at $50,000-$70,000, and her eloquent letter to Henry Nussey, declining his proposal of marriage, estimated at $50,000-$70,000. Writes Miss Bronte to the surprise proposal from the brother of a friend, "I have no personal repugnance to the idea of a union with you -- but I feel convinced that mine is not the sort of disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you." Bronte and Nussey remained friendly for years despite the rejection, since, after all, she did not find him repugnant. Two later letters from Bronte to Nussey, also offered in this sale, attest to their continued cordial relationship. This auction also includes a first edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass ($80,000-$120,000), a first of Poe's The Raven and Other Poems ($100,000-$150,000) and a first of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection ($80,000-$120,000).

For those with a few bucks left after this sale, it will be followed the same afternoon by Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana. This sale contains another 259 items, the highlight being a letter from George Washington to his nephew Bushrod Washington. Christie's describes it as "the most important Washington letter to ever come to auction." This letter is dated November 9, 1787. Washington remained publicly neutral on whether the states should ratify the newly adopted Constitution. However, this letter to Bushrod, who was slated to become a delegate from Virginia, reveals his true feelings. Washington writes that the debate comes down to one basic issue, "namely -- is it best for the States to unite, or not to unite?" He comes down on the side of union. While noting that the document is not perfect, he is reassured because there is a mechanism by which the people can change it in the years ahead. Saying that he believes that there is "little doubt" that it will get the approval of at least the minimum 9 of 13 states, he asks what the others will do - "...return to our former dependence on Great Britain for their protection & support?" As to the possibility that some evil will come out of a good document, Washington makes an important observation, applicable equally to current considerations as well as the issue at hand: "...neither my reasoning, nor my experience, has yet been able to discover the propriety of preventing men from doing good, because there is a possibility of their doing evil." The General and future First President's letter is estimated to sell for $1,500,000-$2,500,000.

Other items in this sale include an unfinished novel by Vladimir Nabokov, The Original of Laura. The manuscript has been meticulously written on 138 index cards. It is estimated at $400,000-$600,000. There is a signed first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, expected to bring $200,000-$300,000. The second folio edition (1858-59) of John James Audubon's The Birds of America is estimated at $150,000-$200,000. Two other important political letters from the 1780s from Washington to his nephew Bushrod are also available, estimated at $200,000-$300,000 each. Naturally, there are many other important items offered at considerably more modest estimates.

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.

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