The French Connection to the Old West
Some interesting history of the value of these editions can be found in the ÆD. Naturally, the earlier (French) edition is more valuable. In 1907 Rosenbach offered the English version for $8.50. Four years later, he offered the French one for $75. That ratio of around 10:1 stood for many years. For Eberstadt in 1943 the difference is $150 to $12.50. From Decker in 1945 it’s $100 to $12.50. The same year’s Littell auction shows a differential of $130 to $12.50. It’s an even 10:1, $200 vs. $20 for Eberstadt in 1947. By 1960 it’s $325 to $35 in Peter Decker’s catalogs. And Eberstadt, who offered them for $200 and $20 in 1947, by 1964 has them priced at $450 and $45. The prices have more than doubled though the ratio remains the same. By the time of the Streeter auction in 1969, the prices have skyrocketed to $1,300 and $150.
The only exceptions to these ratios are in the 1923 sale of duplicates from the Huntington Collection, and the Holliday auction in 1954. Here the ratios are much tighter, but in each case the price for the first edition is suspiciously low. So look at what happens at the Siebert auction in 1999. Sotheby’s estimates $2,500-$3,500 for the French 1820 edition, and $400-$600 for the 1854 translation. That’s consistent with past sales. So what happens is the English translation goes below estimates at $345 while the French original blows away expectations at $5,175. Let this be a reminder to collectors everywhere of the investment value of purchasing the most desirable copy of a book versus a somewhat less collectible one.
I discovered one other interesting fact in the ÆD. Rosenbach offered a copy of the 1820 edition for $75 in 1911. This is a truly amazing one. It’s a presentation copy from the author to Senator Robert Hayne. Hayne gives it to Senator Thomas Hart Benton in 1829, who passes it on to General John C. Fremont in 1844. The copy contains the inscriptions of all four of these gentlemen. This same copy shows up in the ÆD 58 years later (1969) in the Streeter sale for $1,300. What it would be worth today I cannot imagine. My MatchMaker Software finds an author inscribed copy (but not to the likes of the three gentleman above) being offered by the William Reese Company today for $10,000. An uninscribed copy is offered by Buckingham Books for $5,000. A dozen copies of the 1854 translation are available on Abebooks for prices ranging from $295 to $1,100. The latter price is not yet reasonable for the second edition.
For those interested in reading Franchere’s Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America…(as the translation is known), it can be found on the “Making of America Books” website. The web address is www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moa;idno=AGW1497#resultstoc