Ending July 2: $5 starts at Gibson Auction's Americana Sale a real bargain

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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Highlighted lots from Gibson Auction's Rare Americana Antiquarian Book & Map Auction

Gibson Auction Service is a family owned and run business operating out of central Virginia. Serving mainly the local and drivable population, they offer all sorts of items for auction: personal property, farm machinery, real estate, and the like. In fact, the majority of their sales fall under these categories and so Gibson has never been covered on Rare Book Hub. This month, however, they are hosting a sale we’re very interested in. Entitled Rare Americana Antiquarian Book & Map Auction, the highlight of this sale is not necessarily any one lot, but the prices. Every lot begins (or began, as pre-bidding has already begun online) at $5. Rare books are not the specialty of Gibson, and with 325 lots, many being bulk lots, only the first forty lots have been given full descriptions. That being said, there are absolutely some rare and important items contained within the sale. Let’s have a look.

I just said that the highlight of this sale are its prices, but there’s definitely a single lot that stands out. John Lederer was a German surveyor who in 1669 was commissioned by Virginia governor William Berkeley to find a passage through the western mountains. He was the first European to explore west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and to see the Shenandoah Valley. The first edition of The Discoveries of John Lederer, in three several Marches from Virginia, To the West of Carolina, And other parts of the Continent: Begun in March 1669, and ended in September 1670, printed in 1672, is a “very rare book” (Sabin 39676). In the last sixty years, only two distinct copies appear in the Rare Book Transaction History over the course of several transactions. One of those, acquired by my dad Bruce at the Siebert sale in 1999, called my parents’ address home for eleven years. In 2010, his Discoveries of John Lederer, with an estimate of $40,000-60,000, sold for $158,000 at Bonhams. The book coming to sale now is not one of the two copies that have sold in living memory; it is not the Streeter-Siebert-McKinney copy. It does contain the same folding map though, which is directly correlated with the book’s value. And it claims a famous provenance nonetheless, bearing the armorial bookplate of the “Bibliotheca Phillippica,” also known as the Collection Formed By Sir Thomas Phillips, the renowned English book collector who lays claim to the largest collection of manuscript material amassed in the 19th century. Just like every other lot in this sale, lot 25, The Discoveries of John Lederer began bidding at $5. In pre-bidding at the time of this writing, that price has increased 1,000% to $5,000. Who knows what it will go for…

Lederer is not the only man to have produced a gem for the sale. Two men, far better known than Lederer, have one-of-a-kind items contained within. You may have heard of Daniel Boone and John James Audubon. Lot 23 is an autograph letter signed by Boone to Audubon, dated July 11, 1813. In the letter, Boone invites Audubon to come to his son Nathan’s house and states he is “too old and trifling now for any labor,” and also mentions how age has affected his eye sight. Pre-bidding on the lot is up to $3,000. The following lot, number 24, is an autograph letter signed by Audubon to Richard Harlan, the American naturalist and zoologist. The online catalog has excellent pictures that show the letter in clear detail, but for the life of me, I cannot decipher Audubon’s hand. I’m sure there are some of you reading this who can. Pre-bidding is currently at $1,250.

With a mere forty lots with descriptions and ridiculously low starting prices (with no reserves), any collector or purveyor of Americana, especially those interested in Virginia and the Carolinas, will enjoy browsing the catalog. As Gibson Auction Service does not usually deal in rare books and manuscripts, a keen and informed eye can very likely find some serious bargains. The official auction start time is noon Eastern Time on July 2nd. General auction information and a summary of the lots can be found here, while the complete catalog and pre-bidding are available here.