Christie's New York: Americana and Botany Collectors Converge

- by Thomas C. McKinney

Items from Christie's December 4th sale Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including Americana

With a veritable cornucopia of rare and significant material, Christie’s New York will soon be offering collectors of rare books, manuscripts, maps, ephemera, and autographs a sale to be grateful for this holiday season. Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including Americana is 267 lots to be sold one week after Thanksgiving, on December 4th, 2014, at Christie’s Rockefeller Plaza location.

The sale opens with a section dedicated to Americana, and autograph and signed letters and documents are out in force. The Presidential likes of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, as well as more contemporary Heads of State, such as Eisenhower, Truman, and Kennedy, are all here. Interspersed among these men are other figures from history: Davy Crockett, Albert Einstein, and Nathanael Greene leave their literal marks, too.

While autographs absolutely outnumber any other type of Americana, other items deserve to be mentioned. Henry James Warre’s Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory, a first edition from 1848, contains sixteen hand-colored and tinted lithographic plate views of the Pacific Northwest. Howes considered these works to be the only western color-plates comparable to the gold standard set by Swiss artist Karl Bodmer. Available as lot 75, this excellent copy is estimated $80,000 - $120,000. For map collectors, cartographers Robert Sayer and John Bennett present The Seat of War in New England, by an American Volunteer, with the Marches of Several other Corps Sent by the Colonies towards Boston, with the Attack on Bunker Hill. Printed in London only three months after the battle of Bunker’s Hill, the map contains a detailed depiction of the early phases of the Revolution. Equally at home in American map and Revolutionary collections, this important item is listed as lot 61 and estimated $20,000 - $30,000.

The rest of the sale is grouped under the general heading of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts but is also broken into some sub-categories. Lots 86 through 106 are Sets and Bindings, and the Works of many famous authors and historically significant people are contained within. Samuel Clemens (lot 88, est. $5,000 - $7,000), John Muir (lot 96, est. $2,000 - $3,000), Theodore Roosevelt (lot 98, est. $3,000 - $4,000), and Henry David Thoreau (lot 103, est. $5,000 - $7,000) are some that jump out. All are finely bound and make for impressive sets of important material.

In September 2014, the Holden Arboretum and Cleveland Botanical Garden entered into an affiliation which, when combined, made them the 13th largest public garden in the United States. As a result of this union, important botanical books formerly in the collection of the Cleveland Botanical Garden have come to auction. Lots 109 through 180 make up these items, and the large majority are illustrated. There are also additional botanical books offered from lots 181 to 199. Collectors of botanical material will already have this sale highlighted on their calendars.

Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including Americana concludes with a final offering of rare books, manuscripts, maps, and autographs. Depending on your perspective, it may appear Christie’s saved the best for last. Many significant items are available, with subjects ranging widely. At lot 230, a first edition, limited issue of Joyce’s Ulysses is available and estimated $30,000 - $40,000. Two copies of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life are also here, one copy in better condition than the other. At lots 202 and 203, their estimates are $80,000 - $120,000 and $60,000 - $80,000, respectively.

I usually make a point in these AE auction previews of highlighting the item with the highest estimate, and in this case, it’s a tie between two items in the last part of the sale. They are quite different. Going in order of lot number, lot 227, Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Exercita Spiritualia, dated September 11, 1548, is regarded as an extremely important book in Christian history, and has been called “the most famous modern textbook on ascetic discipline, the nature of sin and Christian perfection by grace” (PMM). This first edition is extraordinarily rare, the last seen at auction being the Harmsworth copy in 1946, and that example was admittedly in tougher shape. Owning this item will not come cheaply—its estimate sits at $200,000 - $300,000. Sharing the same estimate is lot 251, which is the second folio edition of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies… This particular edition is important because it is in the second folio that John Milton first appears in print. Additionally, this particular copy remains in a rare early binding.

As is standard for sales through Christie’s, bidding is available in-person at Rockefeller Plaza, over the phone, or through their website. Please register here if you plan on bidding online. The begins at 10AM ET on December 4, 2014.

As is standard for sales through Christie’s, bidding is available in-person at Rockefeller Plaza, over the phone, or through their website. Please register here if you plan on bidding online. The entire catalogue may be viewed online, and a PDF copy is also available for download. The sale begins at 10AM ET on December 4, 2014.