• Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 4. Blaeu's Magnificent Carte-a-Figures World Map in Full Contemporary Color (1642) Est. $12,000 - $15,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 125. 1775 Edition of the Landmark Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia and Maryland (1775) Est. $15,000 - $18,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 673. Rare Frontispiece in Full Contemporary Color with Gilt Highlights (1662) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 717. Complete Tanner Atlas with Important Maps of Texas & Iowa (1845) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 3. Henricus Hondius' Baroque-Style World Map (1641) Est. $9,500 - $11,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 258. Complete Set of De Bry's Native Virginians & Picts from Part I of Grands Voyages (1608) Est. $2,750 - $3,500
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 608. Superb Work on 18th Century Russia with over 100 Maps and Plates (1788) Est. $3,500 - $4,250
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 49. One of the Most Important 16th Century Maps of the New World (1556) Est. $5,000 - $6,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 706. Superb Image of the Annunciation in Contemporary Hand Color (1518) Est. $900 - $1,100
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 123. One of the Earliest Maps to Show Philadelphia (1695) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 631. One of the Earliest Printed Maps of Afghanistan & Pakistan (1482) Est. $1,900 - $2,200
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 689. Proof Copy Engraving of the Senate Floor During the Compromise of 1850 (1855) Est. $1,500 - $1,800
  • Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 70 - Warner (Robert). The Orchid Album, 11 volumes, 1882-1897. £5,000 to £8,000
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 151 - United States. Melish (John), Map of the United States with..., British & Spanish Possessions, 1816. £40,000 to £60,000
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 159 - World. Speed (John), A New and Accurat Map of the World, 1676. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 503 - American Civil War playing cards. Union Cards, New York: American Card Co., 1862. £500 to £800
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 573 - Shepard (Ernest Howard), 'The Hour is Come’, original watercolour, [1959]. £10,000 to £15,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 922 - Wilde (Oscar). An Ideal Husband, large paper limited issue, 1899. £4,000 to £6,000
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 744 - Disney (Walt). “Sketch Book” [of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs], 1938. £700 to £1,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 771 - Auden (Wystan Hugh). Portrait of the head of W. H. Auden, 1970. £1,000 to £1,500
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 822 - Fleming (Ian). Goldfinger, 1st edition, signed by the author, 1959. £6,000 to £8,000
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 895 - Rowling (J. K.). A complete inscribed set of Harry Potter books plus ephemera. £8,000 to £12,0000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 883 - Orwell (George). Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1st edition, London: Secker & Warburg, 1949. £3,000 to £5,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 700 - Ashendene Press. T. Lucreti Cari De Rerium Natura Libri Sex, Chelsea: Ashendene Press, 1913. £4,000 to £6,000
  • Doyle, June 20: CLAUDE MCKA. Home to Harlem. New York: Harpers, 1928. First edition. $700 to $1,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Haydn's VI Original Canzonettas, signed by the composer. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Doyle, June 20: A rare EP sleeve inscribed by John Lennon. $800 to $1,200.
    Doyle, June 20: An extremely rare 1961 concert set list and autograph letter from The King. $7,000 to $10,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Bryan Batt's copy of the Mad Men Yearbook, 2008-2014. $600 to $800.
    Doyle, June 20: An original Al Hirschfeld depicting comedian Fred Allen. $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: A signed note from George Gershwin with reference to Porgy and Bess. $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: An original Harold Arlen manuscript musical quotation from "Over the Rainbow.” $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: A fine original Edith Head sketch for Grace Kelly's wedding trousseau. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Doyle, June 20: The poster for New Faces with inscriptions and the signature of Eartha Kitt. $200 to $300.
    Doyle, June 20: The classic "Jazz" Bowl by Viktor Schreckengost for Cowan Pottery. $15,000 to $25,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Tony Award Medallion won for "Kismet." $3,000 to $5,000.

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2012 Issue

Is Top Book Auction Price for 2012 about to be Revealed?

From Audubon's Birds of America.

Even as we close out the Top 500 auction prices from the book world for 2011 (see article in this month's issue of AE Monthly), we may already have a preview of number 1 for 2012. Of course we don't know what may yet appear with the full year still ahead, but barely three weeks into the new year, an item will be hammered down for likely three to four times the highest price paid in 2011, maybe more. At least, that's what we can expect if estimates, and past history, are any guide.

On January 20, Christie's will be auctioning a copy of the most expensive printed book to ever be sold at auction, the double elephant folio edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America. It is an absolutely spectacular book, even more a work of art than a book of science, though that was its primary role when published in the first half of the 19th century. Audubon was a great artist, not an impressionist or abstract painter, but a master at reproducing birds in great and accurate detail. In the 1820s, he put together a plan to draw the birds of America. He set out to finding specimens to paint. He sought out publishers in New York and Philadelphia, and when this failed, located one in London. Audubon determined to present his images life size where possible, necessitating the large, double elephant folio size of this work. Ultimately, that would make it so expensive he could not make any money. Audubon did not achieve financial success until he later reprinted his work in the smaller, less expensive octavo size that was within the financial means of many more potential customers. However, that is a story for later, not today.

Audubon went out and drummed up a list of pre-publication subscribers. He realized this would take a long time to complete, estimating 14 years. So, he determined to send out his printed drawings in installments. The buyer would collect the pages as they arrived, and bind them in a book once received. This process went on for years, though it completed a little earlier than Audubon estimated. The printing began in 1827, and was completed in 1838. At the end, he was still broke, but as noted earlier, he would make his fortune in the 1840s after releasing the smaller edition.

Interestingly, Birds of America is not a particularly rare book. There are books you can buy for a few hundred dollars, maybe less, with only a tiny percentage of the number of copies known to exist as there are of the Birds. There were 161 subscribers to the set, but Audubon undoubtedly printed some extras. There are estimates that around 200 copies were probably printed. Most are still around, though many were either broken up of are missing parts. In 1973, Susan Low did an inventory of the known copies of the double elephant folio edition and located 119 complete copies, 108 in institutions, and 11 in private hands. Those numbers have changed little since. With the discovery of one more copy, there are now known to be 107 copies in institutions, and 13 in private hands. Since 1973, 24 copies have been sold at auction, but 14 were sold sheet by sheet, many lacking some of the plates, and another was missing a volume.

This edition has twice set the record for the highest price ever paid for a printed book at auction. In 2000, Christie's put up the copy of original subscriber George Lane Fox. This is the one that had escaped Susan Low's 1973 inventory (she described it as missing). Against an estimate of $3-$4 million, it sold for $8,802,500. It was a record at the time. However, in 2010, Sotheby's, as part of the sale of Lord Hesketh's library, offered another copy of the first edition. This copy had belonged to the eleventh subscriber, Henry Witham. Lord Hesketh purchased it in the 1950s (when it was still somewhat affordable) for £7000. Against Sotheby's estimate of £4-6 million, it sold for £7,321,250, or around $11.5 million in U.S. dollars. That, too, was a record for a printed book. In between these auctions, the Providence Athenaeum copy sold at Christie's in 2005 for a “mere” $5,616,000.

The copy to be sold by Christie's this month, it is believed, once belonged to William Henry Cavdendish, the Fourth Duke of Portland. The earliest bookplate is that of the Sixth Duke, so it is possible it was the Fifth or Sixth Duke who originally brought it into the family, but it is believed to have started with the Fourth. He was not a subscriber, but is believed to have purchased a bound copy sometime after the work was completed in 1838. If it did belong to the Fourth Duke, he would have purchased it no later than 1854, as that is when he died.

Will this latest copy to be offered fly past the high estimate, as the previous record holders did, to set a new record, or will nervous economic times hold its price down? Stay tuned. We will know soon enough.

If you wish to compete for this book, you can find all of the details on Christie's website by clicking this link.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Keats, John] Spenser, Edmund: The Works of that Famous English Poet, Mr. Edmond Spenser. $50,000 - $80,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: (Walton, Izaak): The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative man's Recreation. Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing. $30,000 - $50,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Thomas, Gabriel: An Historical and Geographical Account of the Province and Country of Pensilvania; and of West-New-Jersey in America. $25,000 - $35,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Carroll, Lewis]: The Game of Alice in Wonderland. $2,000 - $3,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Athias, Joseph, et al.: Biblia Hebraica. $7,000 - $10,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Warhol, Andy, and Jens Quistgaard] Dansk Designs Salesman's Presentation Catalogue. $2,500 - $3,500.
  • Sotheby’s, June 26: Poe, Edgar Allan. Tamerlane — the most poignant rarity in American literature. 400,000 - 600,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: The Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." 2,500,000 - 5,000,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: William Blake. “Poems with very wild and interesting pictures” 1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: Thomas Taylor [artist]. The original cover art for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 400,000 - 600,000 USD
  • Doyle, June 18: Stephen Sondheim's personalized Sweeney Todd asylum coat and jacket. $400 to $600.
    Doyle, June 18: Twelve Posters for Stephen Sondheim Musicals. $400 to $600.
    Doyle, June 18: Stephen Sondheim's Gold Record for the soundtrack to West Side Story. $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 18: A manuscript musical quotation from Passion. The quotation headed "Tranquillo" above the music, the lyrics are also written out: "lov-ing you is not a choice, it's who I am..." 11 x 14 inches. $800 to $1,200.
    Doyle, June 18: Stephen Sondheim's retained set of The Sondheim Review. Comprising a complete run of Volume 1, Number 1 (Summer 1994) to Volume XXI, Number 4 (Fall 2015). $500 to $800.
    Doyle, June 18: Five amusing Victorian-era game boards, including Snakes and Ladders. $200 to $300.
    Doyle, June 18: A cased tabletop croquet set and two horse racing games. $300 to $500.
    Doyle, June 18: Four Posters Related to Various Sondheim Productions. $300 to $500.
    Doyle, June 18: The rare first American edition of The Phantom of the Opera. $100 to $200.
  • Sagen & Delås Auctions
    Towards the Poles: Accounts of Polar Exploration
    June 15, 2024
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ROALD AMUNDSEN: PHOTO of «Fram» SIGNED by 17 members of the South Pole Expedition, Including Amundsen. €6,900 to €8,600.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ROALD AMUNDSEN: «Sydpolen», 1912. IN PARTS. €1,280 to €2,150.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: JEAN-BAPTISTE CHARCOT: «Expédition Antarctique Francaise […] 1903-1905. », 1906. RARE, SIGNED. €2,100 to €3,400.
    Sagen & Delås Auctions
    Towards the Poles: Accounts of Polar Exploration
    June 15, 2024
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: FREDERICK A. COOK: «Through the first Antarctic Night 1898-1899. […]», 1900. First LIMITED & SIGNED edition. €2,100 to €3,400.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: JAPANESE ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION UNDER NOBU SHIRASE: «Watashi no Nankyoku Tanken-ki», 1942. Publisher's wrappers. €1,280 to €2,135.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: FRIDTJOF NANSEN: «Fram over Polhavet», 1897. LOT - 6 Variant bindings. €1,250 to €2,100.
    Sagen & Delås Auctions
    Towards the Poles: Accounts of Polar Exploration
    June 15, 2024
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ABRAHAM ORTELIUS: «Septentrionalium Regionum Descrip», 1570. Beautiful handcoloured first state map. €2,950 to €3,800.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: SCOTTISH NATIONAL ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION: [W. S. BRUCE]: «Life in the Antarctic», 1907. 2 copies in wrappers. €85 to €250.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ERNEST SHACKLETON: «The British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-9», 1909. Publisher's wrappers. €510 to €1,025.
    Sagen & Delås Auctions
    Towards the Poles: Accounts of Polar Exploration
    June 15, 2024
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ERNEST SHACKLETON: «South», 1919. An attractive copy in publisher's cloth. €2,550 to €4,265.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: UNITED STATES EXPLORING EXPEDITION UNDER CHARLES WILKES (1838-1842): «Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition», 1845. €3,400 to €5,100.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: HUBERT WILKINS: «Under the North Pole», 1931 | CONTRIBUTORS EDITION - LIMITED TO 29 COPIES. €1,280 to €2,550.
  • Heritage Auctions, June 27
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
    The Great Gatsby
    New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Mary Shelley
    Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
    London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    J. R. R. Tolkien
    The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again
    London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1937
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Jane Austen
    Emma: A Novel. In Three Volumes. By the Author of "Pride and Prejudice," &c. &c.
    London: Printed for John Murray, 1816
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Robert Louis Stevenson
    An Inland Voyage
    London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Ernest Hemingway
    Three Stories & Ten Poems
    Paris: Contact Publishing Co., 1923
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
    History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark
    Philadelphia, 1814
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Emily Dickinson
    Autograph letter signed ("Emily and Vinnie"), to Mary Adelaide Hills
    Amherst, MA, Late April, 1880
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    John Keats
    Autograph letter signed ("John Keats"), to Mrs. Jeffrey
    Honiton 4 or 5 May 1818
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Samuel Johnson
    A Dictionary of the English Language: In which the Words are deduced from their Originals…
    London, 1765
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    H. P. Lovecraft
    Small archive of nine lengthy autograph letters signed variously over a period of six years to J. Vernon Shea.
    Various places, 1931-1937
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Izaak Walton
    The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man's Recreation…
    London: T. homas Maxey for Rich. ard Marriot, 1653

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions