May 9: Maps and Atlases Take Center Stage at Sotheby's London

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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Highlights from Sotheby's May 9 sale of Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History

This month I’ve written three previews of international sales, one of which is Sotheby’s sale of Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History on May 9, 2017 in London. One hundred twenty-eight lots are on offer, and maps and atlases threaten to steal the show—Sotheby’s describes the sale as offering “some of the greatest Dutch atlases ever produced.” Nine of the ten highest estimated items are cartographic, and they are indeed extraordinary.

 

Dutch maps and atlases cannot be discussed without the name Blaeu immediarely coming to mind. Three of the auctions top ten items are from Johannes Blaeu, including collaboration with his father on one. Archipelagus Orientalis Sive Asiaticus is a large wall map (158.7cm x 117.4cm) from 1659 by Johannes depicting Southeast Asia and Australia, with inset maps of Borin and the Solomon Islands. This is an extremely rare map in the presented state, which includes an imprint of Blaeu in three languages. Sotheby’s notes that the copy being auctioned is possibly one of two known surviving copies, and that no other records of sale were found during research. The area shown on the map is also an excellent example of Dutch sea power in Asia during the 17th century, containing all discoveries in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. This impressive wall map carries an estimate of £200,000 to £250,000 as lot 93. The following lot, no. 94, is also a 1659 Blaeu wall map of Asia, but one of the main continent (est. £60,000 – 80,000). And following Archipelagus Orientalis Sive Asiaticus in high estimation is a work by Johannes and his father Willem. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Sive Atlas Novus in Quo Tabulae et Descriptiones Omnium Regionum is a five-volume set of atlases printed beteen 1640 and 1654 with 392 maps total, most of which are double-page. Volume V, containing Scotland and Ireland, is the first separate atlas of Scotland ever produced. The name Blaeu is renowned for the maps associated, and these atlases are superb examples. The five-volume set is estimated £100,000 to £150,000 as lot 24.

 

Continuing in the theme of “some of the greatest Dutch atlases ever produced,” lot 25 is a work begun by the Flemmish map maestro Gerard Mercator, and completed by Flemish and Dutch cartographer and engraver Jodocus Hondius (the elder). Hondius is well known for helping to redeem the reputation of Mercator, and the item in question, l'Atlas ou Méditations Cosmographiques de la Fabrique du Monde et Figure Diceluy, certainly played a role. Work was started by Mercator in 1595, and in 1604 Hondius bought his plates. Two years later, the first Amsterdam edition of the Mercator atlas was published. The edition being offered at Sotheby’s is the second French text edition (1613), and the first French edition to be published after Hondius’ death the preceding year. The work of Mercator is exceeding desirable today as he is universally regarded as a titan of cartography—we have him to thank for the usage of “atlas,” and his 1595 work was the first collection of maps to carry the name. An estimate of £60,000 to £80,000

 

There are many other maps worth discussing, and collectors with the income to bid on top items will undoubtedly already be aware of Sotheby’s offering. A rare hand-colored copy of John Speed’s The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain and Prospect, as well as two maps of China are among some of these maps of note.

Also related to China is lot 128, being John Thomson’s Illustrations of China And Its People. A Series of Two Hundred Photographs, with Letterpress Descriptions of the Places and People Represented. Thomson was the first known photographer to document the people and land of China for publication in the west. This first edition from 1873-1874 contains 96 plates (some with multiple photos) and is one of the most detailed and thorough photographic documentations of 19th century China. Of his work and goal, Thomson writes in the introduction:

My design in the accompanying work is to present a series of pictures of China and its people, such as shall convey an accurate impression of the country I traversed as well as the arts, usages, and manners which prevail in different provinces of the Empire. With this intention I made the camera the constant companion of my wanderings, and to it I am indebted for the faithful representation of the scenes I visited and the types of races I came into contact.

Thomsom’s work is estimated £20,000 to £30,000.

 

Shifting gears for a last time, lot 20 is Thomas Uwins’ A Collection of 240 Drawings of Costume Designs for Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts Magazine. Bound in three volumes, these are not prints, but the original drawings in pencil with watercolor. For collectors of fashion history, these drawings are unique and influenced western fashion during the early 19th century. Uwins’ work for Ackermann is also estimated £20,000 to £30,000.

 

The sale’s catalog can be viewed on Sotheby’s website here.

 

Sotheby’s sale of Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History takes place May 9, 2017 in London at 2 pm British summer time. Exhibition times are the following:

  • Fri, 05 May 17 | 09:00 AM - 04:30 PM BST
  • Sat, 06 May 17 | 12:00 PM - 05:00 PM BST
  • Sun, 07 May 17 | 12:00 PM - 05:00 PM BST
  • Mon, 08 May 17 | 09:00 AM - 04:30 PM BST

 

Bidding is available through the normal means: live in person, absentee, telephone, and online. Logging in with an existing account or registering with Sotheby’s is required.