A Streeter Auction Returns This Month
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.
A Streeter Auction Returns This Month
Not surprisingly, you will also find sets of the three Cook voyages, along with other Pacific explorers such as La Perouse, Kotzebue, Dampier, Anson, even Captain Bligh and the American Charles Wilkes. Both Bougainvilles are present. There are polar explorers represented – Franklin, Parry, Amundsen and Ross. Science is well represented by Galileo, Ptolemy, Newton, Bernoulli, Copernicus, Kepler and Darwin. For pirates, there is Alexandre Exquemelin's tale. There is even Thomas Streeter's copy of the Brinley auction catalogue. The Brinley sale was sort of the 19th century version of Streeter's own 20th century Americana auction. We have barely touched the surface, as there are 552 lots in all, but it is obvious that Streeter possessed a very important collection.
Anticipated to bring the highest price is The Atlantic Neptune, published for the use of the Royal Navy of Great Britain from Joseph F. Wallet Des Barres. Published from 1774-1779, this four-volume set offers a spectacular compilation of 116 charts, plans and views. They cover North American waters and harbors from Nova Scotia to Mexico. The set became even more important due to its timing. The British needed these charts as part of their war with rebellious American colonists. This copy is estimated to sell for between $400,000-$600,000, not at all out of line considering that a copy without as many charts sold for the equivalent of almost $570,000 two years ago. Interestingly, the copy here offered is the same one that was part of the senior Mr. Streeter's collection, and which was sold at his auction in 1967 for $39,000. That would indicate a value of at least $550,000 today, so look for this one to go at least in the higher range of its estimate.
The Streeter auction will be held in three sessions, April 16 at 6 p.m. and April 17 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Viewing will be held at Christie's Rockefeller Center gallery April 11-16. Items from the Streeter sale may be found in the "Live Auction" search at the top of this page, or you may go to the following page for a complete list of items offered at this sale: Streeter Sale. Forty-two of these items were also offered at his father's sale plus one which was a duplicate copy of one so offered.