Jay Kislak’s name is familiar to the vast majority of readers of Rare Book Monthly, but thanks to “Exploring the Early Americas,” the ongoing exhibition at the Library of Congress of selections from his incomparable collection of books, manuscripts, maps, and artifacts documenting the history and cultures of Florida, the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica, Jay’s name is also known to countless others whose vocations or avocations do not revolve around the world of rare books. On the other hand, because of Jay’s generosity in donating his collection to the nation, the book world was deprived of the spectacle of a Jay Kislak sale, which would undoubtedly have taken its place with the greatest Americana auctions of all time, from Brinley to Streeter.
But because Jay didn’t—or couldn’t—stop collecting once the contents of his shelves, cabinets, and vitrines had been transferred to 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, D.C., the book world will get a tiny glimpse of what an auction of the Jay Kislak Collection might have been like. On April 26, with a presale exhibition on view for the duration of the ABAA Book Fair taking place a few blocks away, Sotheby’s will offer a little more than a hundred lots from Jay’s post-LC collecting. (Nor was his collecting restricted to book and manuscripts. This auction year Sotheby’s has sold more than $20,000,000 of property from Jay’s collections, in both New York and London, in departments as diverse as Contemporary, Impressionist & Modern, Prints, Photographs, Chinese Works of Art, American Art, Old Master Paintings and Drawings, Americana, and Design.)
The books and manuscripts are expected to add another $2,500,000 to $3,500,000 to support the philanthropies of the Kislak Family Foundation, for whose benefit they are being sold. And the books and manuscripts, though relatively small in number, themselves demonstrate the range of Jay’s intellect and interest.
Americana, not surprisingly, predominates including spectacular sets, each with distinguished provenance, of two of the finest illustrated works of their respective times: the magnificent Jean Perrette set of the Great and Small Voyages collected and published by the De Bry family ($400,000–600,000) and the Frank Streeter copy of J. F. W. De Barres’s Atlantic Neptune ($700,000–1,000,000). Other great works of early seafaring and exploration are Richard Eden’s 1572 The Arte of Navigation ($120,000–180,000) and both William Bourne’s 1574 Regiment for the Sea ($100,000–150,000) and his 1578 Treasure for Traueilers ($20,000–30,000).
Manuscript Americana is represented by letters and documents by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Anthony Wayne, Joseph Brant, Zachary Taylor, Ronald Reagan—even Louis Armstrong (if jazz isn’t Americana, what is?).
But the real surprise of the sale is the scope and significance of the non-Americana. This portion of the sale is headed by an important association copy of the second, 1566, edition of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium ($200,000–300,000). This copy, part of the edition that first incorporated Georg Rheticus’s Narratio prima, was owned and annotated by two seventeenth-century Copernican scholars, Henry Briggs and Henry Gellibrand; in the twentieth century it was part of the fabled science library of Harrison Horblit.
Other notable non-Americana include a copy of Jean Baptiste Geoffroy's ca. 1873 Nouveau dictionnaire élémentaire latin-français, annotated with some 350 pen and ink drawings by the sixteen-year-old Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's ($150,000–200,000); an autograph letter draft by Jay’s fellow aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry incorporating three original pencil sketches of the Little Prince ($5,000–7,000); a three-page autograph letter signed twice by Admiral Horatio Nelson to Sir William Hamilton, May 1799, during the blockade of Naples ($15,000–20,000); and Daniel Giraud Elliot’s Monograph of the Felidae or Family of Cats, dramatically illustrated by Josef Wolf ($50,000–70,000).
To register to bid or for more information, please see https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2022/books-and-manuscripts-from-the-collection-of-jay-i-kislak-sold-to-benefit-the-kislak-family-foundation?locale=en.