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A Document, a Map, and a Song Lead Book Sale

December 7th, 2012


This 59 15/16" x 44 3/16" six-sheet manuscript map by Charles Blaskowitz (circa 1743-1823), consigned by Mrs. M. Sharpe Erskine’s trust, sold for $782,500 (est. $700,000/1 million) to Paul E. Cohen of Cohen & Taliaferro, New York City, who was bidding for a client. Another member of the trade, Seth Kaller, was the underbidder. The document, “A Plan of New York Island, and Part of Long Island, with the circumjacent Country -- as far as Dobbs’s Ferry to the North, and White Plains to the East including the Rivers, Islands, Roads &ca -- Also shewing the Landing Routes, battles, Lines and Encampments of the British Forces under the Command of His Excellency Sir William Howe Knight of the most Honorable Order of the Bath, Commander in Chief &ca &ca &ca,” includes two inset maps, “Battle of White Plains fought between British Army and the Rebels in which the latter were defeated October 28th 1776,” and “A Plan of Brunswick New Jersey with the British Works & Encampments. 1777.”

Viewing the map through Christie’s on-line catalog is better than the print version because you can enlarge portions of it, such as British encampments in red, “Rebel” battle lines in yellow, or landing routes, for study on your computer screen. Cohen said he will be studying the map for a new book he’s coauthoring on the maps of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.


An actual-size (30 3/8" x 24 3/8") facsimile of the Declaration of Independence sold for $782,500 (est. $400,000/600,000) to a private party in the U.S. Engraved by William J. Stone in 1823, it is one of 200 printed on parchment and distributed to government leaders, colleges, and libraries. (A second edition was authorized and printed on wove paper in 1833.)


This transcribed diary of Daniel A. Jenks, a young fortune seeker from Rhode Island who participated in the California gold rush, sold for $104,500 (est. $60,000/80,000). Jenks wrote the 330 pages from January 1, 1849, to July 1851. He described in vivid detail his miserable sea journey, then the violence and lawlessness he found in the mining camps and gambling halls, where “Bowie knives, revolvers, and pistols of all kinds are part of a man’s daily apparel.” The lot included Jenks’s 278-page manuscript diary dating from January 1852 to September 25, 1856, illustrated with five drawings and over ten sketches, and his 154-page manuscript diary dating from January 1, 1857, to February 20, 1859, illustrated with three drawings.


Another Charles Blaskowitz manuscript map from Mrs. M. Sharpe Erskine’s trust, “A Plan of the Progress of the Royal Army from their Landing at Elk Ferry to Philadelphia 1777 Under the Command of His Excellency, Sir William Howe Knight of the most Honorable Order of the Bath, Commander in Chief &ca &ca &ca Surveyed and Drawn by Order of Major General Sir William Erskine By Charles Blaskowitz Capt of the Corps Guides,” sold to a U.S. dealer for $338,500 (est. $300,000/500,000). One of only three known to have been made during the Philadelphia campaign of 1777-78, this 51 3/8" x 53 1/8" map in 12 sheets belonged to General Erskine, as did the New York example. According to the catalog, aside from its importance to military history, the map was “likely the most detailed and precise map of southeastern Pennsylvania” at the time it was created.


Another transcribed diary of Daniel A. Jenks (not shown), February 1859 to February 1860, and a heavily illustrated manuscript journal, September 1863 to July 1865, sold for $80,500 (est. $20,000/30,000) to Seth Kaller, underbid by Bill Reese. These cover a time when Jenks traveled across the Great Plains back to California for another try at gold mining and is battling both Indians and Mormons who, he said, had teamed up. Kaller said he bought this lot for a client.


For its cover lot, Christie’s book department chose the first-edition, first-printing copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925) that once belonged to British bibliophile Richard Manney. When Sotheby’s New York sold the contents of Manney’s library on October 11, 1991, the book’s price was $14,300. This time, the copy in fine condition, including its famous dust jacket, fetched $134,500 (est. $120,000/180,000).

Christie’s, New York City

Photos courtesy Christie’s

Each of the top three items at Christie’s fine printed books and manuscripts sale on December 7, 2012, in New York City was a superlative piece of Americana. Each was expected to do well, and each did, at the same price, $782,500 (including buyer’s premium).

The first of the three to go up was an actual-size (30 3/8" x 24 3/8") facsimile of the Declaration of Independence (est. $400,000/600,000), the first one authorized by Congress. The 1823 engraving by William J. Stone was meant to preserve the image of the original, which by that time had already suffered some fading and wear.

Only 200 Stone facsimiles were to be printed, by order of then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. (An unauthorized copy was kept by the printer, bringing the total to 201; that one was subsequently donated by his family to the Smithsonian Institution.) Each of the three living signers of the Declaration—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Carroll—got two, as did the Marquis de Lafayette, President James Monroe, Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins, and former President James Madison. Additional copies went to members of the House and Senate, state executives, and colleges and libraries.

Many copies have surfaced over the years. On the Web site of White Plains, New York, historic documents dealer Seth Kaller (www.sethkaller.com), the count is 52; 29 of them are in institutions and the rest in private hands, as was this one, whose source was identified by Christie’s only as “a gentleman.”

The buyer, another private individual who was unnamed in the Christie’s press release, paid a new record price for a Stone facsimile. The previous record, set at Christie’s on February 12, 2009, was $698,500. That copy is now on display at the U.S. State Department, courtesy of philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.

Several of the Stone facsimiles that have sold over the past few years were fresh discoveries, including one found in 2006 in a Nashville, Tennessee, thrift shop and bought for $2.48. The buyer researched it, had it authenticated, and sent it to a top conservator, paying $4000 for that firm’s services. It was money well spent. He then sold it via Raynors’ Historical Collectible Auctions, Burlington, North Carolina, on March 22, 2007, for $477,000 to a Utah investment firm, which soon put it back on the market. When it was offered again by Raynors’ on April 23, 2009, without the hoopla of the thrift-shop sale discovery, Kaller acquired it at a steep discount for $246,750.

“Modern-day three-dollar copies of the Declaration are ubiquitous,” Kaller said. “We get calls all the time about them. But other rare printings have to be out there. So I’m happy to keep taking the calls and having people look on my Web site and compare what they’ve got with the ones we show.”

He added that one of the easiest ways to rule out authenticity is size. “If it looks like the Declaration manuscript but is smaller than the Stone facsimile, it likely has no collectible value.”

Regarding the recent prices for Stone facsimiles, which are higher than what some 1776 printings have brought, a couple of dealers with whom we spoke are frankly puzzled. William S. Reese of New Haven, Connecticut, is one. On June 17, 2010, he paid $572,500 at Sotheby’s for the James S. Copley Library’s Declaration of Independence broadside that was published in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 15 or 16, 1776. It is believed to be the earliest Declaration broadside published in Massachusetts, and only five other copies are known.

“Those broadsides were printed within days of the original one; the Stone facsimiles, almost fifty years later,” Reese noted. “I just don’t get it, but you can’t quarrel with success.”

The second of the top-priced items in this auction, a truly remarkable manuscript map, was made for and used during the American Revolutionary War by the British. Considered to be one of the finest examples of the work of British cartographer Charles Blaskowitz (circa 1743-1823), it belonged to a British Army commander, General Sir William Erskine (1728-1795), who participated in the battles depicted.

Consigned to the sale by Mrs. M. Sharpe Erskine’s trust, the map is large, six sheets measuring 59 15/16" x 44 3/16", and shows in precise detail virtually every military event that transpired during the British Army’s New York campaign of 1776. Christie’s valued it at $700,000/1 million, a reasonable and apparently attainable goal.

A member of the U.S. trade bought it, Christie’s said. We discovered that the buyer, bidding in the salesroom, was Paul E. Cohen of Cohen & Taliaferro, New York City, who bought it for a client. A coauthor of the award-winning Manhattan in Maps: 1527-1995 (Rizzoli, 1997), Cohen said he has handled printed Blaskowitz maps in the past but never before one of his manuscript maps, which are an extreme rarity in the marketplace.

This one, in fact, was completely unknown until now. “Nobody’s ever really seen this map before,” said Cohen. “This one has a freshness to it because it has not been recorded in any book. The first time a picture of it has ever appeared was in the Christie’s catalog.” He continued, “This is a very valuable historical document because here we have for the first time a lot of primary information.”

The third top-priced item, a song, is a relic of a different war: Julia Ward Howe’s first draft of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (est. $250,000/400,000).

In November 1861, Howe (1819-1910) scrawled the four pages in the middle of the night in her semi-dark room at Willard’s Hotel, not far from the White House. The previous day, she and her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a member of the United States Sanitary Commission, had gone across the Potomac with President Lincoln and others to review the troops. Instead, the group saw actual skirmishes, with Confederate sharpshooters attempting to corner Union soldiers.

Howe was frustrated by her inability to help the cause. Having young children, she couldn’t become a volunteer at a soldiers’ hospital, as other women were doing. On the way back to the hotel that day, as she and the rest of the group sang “John Brown’s Body,” someone suggested that Howe write new verses for it. She seized upon this as her opportunity.

Awakened by inspiration, she began to write on her husband’s printed Sanitary Commission stationery “almost without looking at the paper.” With a number of revisions, those lyrics were published in the Atlantic Monthly, printed as sheet music and in hymnals, and sung by millions, including Union soldiers as they marched into every theater of the Civil War.

The provenance listed in the catalog shows that these pages once belonged to Charlotte A. Whipple, a friend of the Howes; William Randolph Hearst; San Francisco bookseller David Magee; and collector J. William Middendorf II, at whose sale of Americana from his collection on May 17, 1989, Christie’s sold it to Malcolm Forbes for $220,000. The draft’s new owner is an unnamed private collector, said Christie’s.

Howe wrote out the lyrics many, many times throughout her life. Some copies were sold to raise funds at the Sanitary Commission fairs; others raised money for charities long after that war was over. In any case, there are various other manuscript versions floating around, but observers agree that this is the big enchilada and deserving of its price.

Added together, these three items accounted for nearly a third of the 227-lot sale’s total, $7,709,250, 76% of which was sold. That result follows the now multiyear trend of the best-funded collectors competing grandly for an auction’s plums. People with a great deal of money still seem to be looking for alternative places to invest big sums—other than in the stock market or in real estate. Fine books and manuscripts, especially historical documents, are among the new “blue chips,” and bidders new to auctions are often competing for them. This is especially true of those items that can elicit a “wow!” without needing any esoteric explanation.

Thomas Lecky, head of Christie’s books and manuscripts department in New York City, said in a prepared statement: “Property that was fresh to the market and of the finest quality performed extremely well in the sale.” Chris Coover, senior specialist of books and manuscripts at Christie’s New York, added: “Iconic pieces of U.S. history attracted great interest and enthusiasm.”

Beyond the headliners, though, Christie’s produced many other choice items for this sale. For example, a second Blaskowitz map, showing the Philadelphia campaign of 1777-78, fetched $338,500 (est. $300,000/500,000). Consigned by the same trust as the New York campaign map, it too sold to the U.S. trade.

There was also a first printing of Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia in a special edition, one of only 200 copies printed in 1782 for private circulation among Jefferson’s friends and acquaintances. It came to the sale directly from a Jefferson descendant and went at $314,500 (est. $150,000/250,000) to a private individual in the U.S.

High-quality George Washington letters have come to market with regularity over the last few years. For example, on December 4, 2009, Christie’s sold one that Washington wrote on November 9, 1787, to his nephew Bushrod Washington on the subject of the ratification of the Constitution; it realized $3,218,500.

The Washington letter in this sale wasn’t about an important government issue. Rather, it was four pages about picking a chief architect for the design of the nation’s new capital in Washington, D.C. Dated November 30, 1792, it was addressed to David Stuart (1753-1814), one of the three D.C. commissioners. Some of it discusses the pros and cons of Pierre L’Enfant’s personality and work ways. He might have been the pick, Washington opines, “if he could have been restrained within proper bounds and his temper was less untoward.” In the end, the commissioners appointed Samuel Blodget as district superintendent, with Étienne Sulpice (“Stephen”) Hallet (1755-1825) given charge of constructing the Capitol and James Hoban (1758-1831) chosen for the design of the White House.

Although more about actual infrastructure than the vital, abstract principles that metaphorically buttress our nation, the letter is desirable for showing Washington thinking on paper about the qualities of men. It sold for $290,500 (est. $250,000/400,000) to Albert H. Small, announced the Washington Post, which also reported that the native Washingtonian and real-estate developer will donate his collection of nearly 700 rare objects, including historical documents, maps, and letters, this one included, to George Washington University for a museum scheduled to open in 2014 on its campus, just a few blocks from the White House.

For more information, contact Christie’s at (212) 636-2000; Web site (www.christies.com).


A second folio edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, an 1860 reissue by Audubon’s youngest son, John Woodhouse Audubon, of his father’s book, sold to a private individual in the U.S. for $422,500 (est. $200,000/300,000). Julius Bien (1826-1909) of New York City carried out the project of making full-size chromolithographed reproductions of the original hand-colored aquatint plates.

New Haven, Connecticut, rare book dealer Bill Reese, one of whose specialties is color-plate books, has called the Bien Audubon “the largest and most ambitious color-plate book of the [19th] century.” He noted, however, that the book has huge variations in values, and laid out the several reasons why.

First, because of its physical size and weight, it’s very awkward to handle. “People used to say of the double elephant [folio] that if you wanted one, you needed to have a billiard room, so you could stow it under the billiard table and look at it on the billiard table. That’s an awkward book, but this one is even more so.”

Second, because of its physical awkwardness and the brittle nature of its paper stock, the Bien Audubon is very prone to being damaged.

Third, while each print is chromolithographed, some prints are hand colored on top of the printed color.

“I believe John Woodhouse Audubon intended them all to be hand finished,” Reese said, but in 1865, when the publisher, Roe Lockwood & Son, took over all of the Audubon family copyrights in payment for debts owed to it, hand coloring was not applied to those Bien prints it subsequently issued. “So you’ll find two different kinds of Biens, ones with hand finishing and ones with just the printed color.”

The copy offered at Christie’s contained 150 plates, “some finished by hand,” according to the catalog.

Reese’s own fully hand-colored copy of Bien’s The Birds of America is now at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. He sold it to the museum, along with the rest of his vast collection of color-plate books.


Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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