Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2010 Issue

A Case of Good Taste and Bad Timing

Frank Benevento


By Bruce McKinney

On May 6th, in London, the map collection of Frank Benevento, of Palm Beach Florida, was sold by Sotheby's. The sale brought British pounds 1.343 million for the 56 items [of 71] that found a buyer. Winning bidders altogether paid about what Frank paid over the past decade. After deducting auction commissions he sustained a loss of 24%. The 15 unsold lots, including several of the best items, amounting to about 15% by value, remain to be dispersed. Of the lots sold, seventy percent changed hands at or below the low estimate. Mr. Benevento's total investment in the auctioned material was BP 1.9 million, in dollars, $2.4 million. Following the sale Mr. Benevento expressed disappointment. In addition to being a map collector he's an investor. As an investment it didn't work out.

Mr. Benevento selected Sotheby's to conduct the sale based on personal impressions and his relationship with Catherine Slowther, a Director of the books and manuscripts department. He signed a contract on September 17th, 2009 for a single owner sale to be conducted in London in the spring of 2010.

This is his story.

Frank Benevento has experienced success throughout his life, and as is the wont of successful men, sought to convert wealth into style and savoir-faire. Money takes you only so far. For some, and Frank is one, the greater goal was the patrician life, the unstated objective to become a renaissance man. Growing up in Chevy Chase, in an upper middle class family, he early on was immersed in history and remembers browsing antique shops in Chevy Chase and Georgetown when others were buying clothes and tennis rackets. His background is Italian with a strong attachment to European culture and history. In time this would become a factor in his collecting.

He graduated from Georgetown summa cum laude in 1970 and University of Virginia Law in 1973. Fresh from school, he was interested enough to buy antiques rather than reproductions. His first job was as a lawyer with Sharon, Pierson, Semmes, Crolius and Finley in Washington. In 1977 he moved to Lehman Brothers in New York as an investment banker working on mergers and energy, later starting a private equity fund in the oil and gas field. In the late 1980's he played a role in the RJR Nabisco takeover that was noted in Barbarians at the Gates. With financial success came the desire for cultural accoutrements. His work regularly brought him to Europe where a chance encounter at the Medici Apartments in Florence ignited his interest in important images, particularly maps and paintings. In the years following he assumed important maps were the exclusive domain of museums. He loved them but they were unobtainable. Ten years ago, quite by chance, he walked into the Arader Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York and found in the early maps of Italy a personal connection. He bought a few, and began to read about and later collect them.

Over the course of the next ten years he traversed the full arc from museum observer to collection owner, in time, spending several million dollars to acquire many of the earliest, rarest, and most expensive maps, often of the world, always the creations of the great European mapmakers. In his headlong pursuit he achieved, for a few years, the dealer sobriquet "whale", the term conferred sotto voce on the biggest buyers.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s, June 26: Poe, Edgar Allan. Tamerlane — the most poignant rarity in American literature. 400,000 - 600,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: The Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." 2,500,000 - 5,000,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: William Blake. “Poems with very wild and interesting pictures” 1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: Thomas Taylor [artist]. The original cover art for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 400,000 - 600,000 USD
  • Bonhams, June 15-25: 18th Century American Sea Captain's Journals of Voyages to Hawaii, China, and South America. $35,000 - $45,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Admiral Richard E. Byrd's Autograph Diary from Bolling Advance Base, Winter 1934. $40,000 - $60,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854. $4,000 - $6,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Cellarius, Andreas. Harmonia macrocosmica seu atlas universalis et novus, totius universi creati cosmographiam generalem, et novam exhibens. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Nobelist George Stigler's Copy of Ricardo's Classic on the Science of Economics. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris: F. L. Schmied, 1927. $15,000 - $20,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Fine Copy of Walras's Classic on the Theory of Marginal Utility. $12,000 - $18,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Arion Press Moby Dick. Melville, Herman. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Venegas, Miguel. Noticia de la California, y desu conquista temporal, y espiritual hasta el tiempo presente. $7,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Carelton Watkins, Yosemite and the West. Portfolio of 21 imperial albumen prints. $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: An Unpublished Archive of Thornton Wilder Correspondence to F.J. O'Neil. $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Vesalius, Andreas. 1514-1564. Suorum de humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome. $100,000 - $150,000
  • Bonhams, June 25: Vesalius, Andreas. 1514-1564. De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. $200,000 - $300,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Gersdorff, Hans Von. 1455-1529. Feldtbuch der wundartzney. $40,000 - $60,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Pare, Ambroise. C.1509-1590. La Methode Curative des Playes, et Fractures de la Teste humaine. Avec les pourtraits des Instruments necessaires pour la curation d'icelles. $25,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Reisch, Gregor. 1470-1525. Margarita Philosophica. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bright, Richard. 1789-1858. Reports of Medical Cases, Selected with a View of Illustrating the Symptoms and Cure of Diseases by a Reference to Morbid Anatomy. $12,000 - $18,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Berengario da Carpi, Giacomo. C. 1460-1530. Tractatus de fractura calve sive cranei. $10,000 - $15,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Vicq D'Azyr, Felix. 1748-1794. Traite d'antomie et de physiologie. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Croce, Giovanni Andrea Della. 1509?-1775. Chirurgia libri septem... $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bruno Da Longburgo. 1200-1286. La cyrogia di Maistro Bruno: Expertissimo in quella. Tradutta in vulgare. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Schwann, Theodor. 1810-1882. Mikroskopische Untersuchungen uber die Ubereinstimmung in der Struktur und dem Wachsthum der Thiere und Pflanzen. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Cowper, William. 1666-1709. The Anatomy of Humane Bodies, with Figures Drawn after the Life… $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bidloo, Govard. 1649-1713. Anatomia humani corporis, centum & quinque tabulis, per artificiossis. G. de Lairesse ad vivum delineatis. $6,000 - $9,000
  • Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Keats, John] Spenser, Edmund: The Works of that Famous English Poet, Mr. Edmond Spenser. $50,000 - $80,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: (Walton, Izaak): The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative man's Recreation. Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing. $30,000 - $50,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Thomas, Gabriel: An Historical and Geographical Account of the Province and Country of Pensilvania; and of West-New-Jersey in America. $25,000 - $35,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Carroll, Lewis]: The Game of Alice in Wonderland. $2,000 - $3,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Athias, Joseph, et al.: Biblia Hebraica. $7,000 - $10,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Warhol, Andy, and Jens Quistgaard] Dansk Designs Salesman's Presentation Catalogue. $2,500 - $3,500.

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