A Streeter Auction Returns This Month

- by Michael Stillman


This first edition of Lewis and Clark will provide insight on the state of the current book market.

By Michael Stillman

There will be an important auction with a very familiar name taking place at Christie's in New York later this month. It will be déjà vu for collectors of printed Americana. On April 16 and 17, 2007, Christie's will be auctioning the Frank S. Streeter Library of Navigation, Pacific Voyages, Cartography and Science. Over 500 items will be offered for sale.

If the Streeter name sounds familiar, there is good reason. It was Frank Streeter's father, Thomas W. Streeter, who compiled one of the finest collections of Americana ever assembled in private hands. His collection of pre-statehood Texana was the highlight of his magnificent library. This portion was sold en masse to Yale University in the 1950s. However, he retained the rest of his almost 5,000 volumes to be resold to the public after his death. Thomas Streeter died in 1965 and the sale of his collection was one of the most significant auctions of the 20th century, perhaps the most important of all in Americana. It was sold in a series of seven auctions that ran from 1966 through 1969 at Parke-Bernet in New York. It brought in $3.1 million, a milestone for American book auctions at the time.

While the son, Frank Streeter, was not quite as spectacular a collector as his father, his collection is still quite impressive. His focus was not as broad, but it is outstanding within the field of Pacific travel and voyages, scientific discoveries, and Americana. The younger Streeter served in the Pacific during the Second World War, which may explain his collecting focus. Frank Streeter, who like his father worked in the field of high finance, died this past year at the age of 88, and also left his collection to be auctioned to the public. Those who weren't around to see the first Streeter auctions may not want to miss this additional opportunity to witness a Streeter sale.

Though this is noted as a primarily voyage sale, Americana collectors should no more miss this one than the previous generation should have ignored the earlier Streeter sale. While Pacific voyages frequently touch on the Americas, there are also numerous accounts of land explorations on the North American continent. Lewis and Clark, Champlain, Mackenzie, Fremont, Pike, Brackenridge and Hennepin all made their way into Streeter's collection. There is even Paul Revere's grandson's account of the California Gold Rush. The first edition of Lewis and Clark's official report will undoubtedly be watched carefully as this is a bellwether of American collecting, the most important American overland travel book of all. It is estimated to bring in $100,000-$150,000. Which end of that range is closest to accurate will tell us something about the market.