From eBay to Christies in 81 Days
A rare chart
By Bruce McKinney
UPDATE: December 5, 2008
The book described in this article sold at Christies in New York for $52,500.
Michael Burnley is a Southern California Bookseller with a Beverly Hills business address, a penchant for research and the luck of Bishamon, the Japanese deity of good fortune. A few months back his diligence and luck paid off handsomely as he scanned eBay listings over a Saturday night and came across a rare book that included an even rarer map. This copy of "A Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage..." Hartford, 1783, the first American book on Hawaii, is a printing that occasionally comes up. What was different about this copy is that it contained the often absent, preternaturally rare and important map - "Chart fhewing the Tracks of the Ships employed in Cap.t Cook's laft Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779". It was offered by eBay seller chocolatepickle37 and was cheap: BP 1,299 or US$2322. Here is the listing as it appeared on eBay in September.
A Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage To The Pacific Ocean, and In Quest of A North-West Passage, Between Asia & America; Performed in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778 and 1779. Illustrated with a Chart, shewing the tracts of the ships employed in this expedition. Faithfully narrated from the original MS of Mr John Ledyard. 1st edition, published in Hartford, in 1783.
Ledyard was born in Groton, Connecticut and attended Dartmouth College in the UK. In 1773 he left the college and decided to travel, so he shipped as a common seaman on a year-long trading voyage to Gibraltar, the Barbary Coast, and the Caribbean. On his next voyage he jumped ship in England, but was eventually impressed and forced to join the British Navy as a Marine. He joined Captain Cook's last voyage, and was onboard ship when Cook met his death on Hawaii. He was also with Cook during the first part of the American Revolution. Assigned to the North American station, he deserted and returned to Hartford, where this account was published in 1783.
The book is bound in contemporary full sheep, spine with 5 raised bands and morocco title lable, ink scribbling on front free endpaper, and ink inscriptions on rear endpaper and rear pastedown. Previous owners inscription and stamp on title page, folding map has several repaired tears and is frayed at the edges, contents grubby and with occasional minor staining, binding with some markings but in solid condition.
The book has been collated and is complete.
Only 2 other copies have been found for sale worldwide, and priced respectively at £8500 ($15000) and £13000 ($25000). Both these copies are lacking the original map which is present in our copy.
One of the rarest of subsidiary accounts of Cook's voyage, and a book of the greatest interest in the history of the Northwest Coast and its exploration.
This is indeed a rare book and the seller knew it as she mentions two copies without the map [there are currently three] on line and acknowledges their much higher prices. She describes the copy as "complete" but it's not. It's missing the 161-162 leaf. Nevertheless she prices her copy as "impaired" compared to the online listings she references. It's all in fact rather confusing.
So why did she price her copy, which contained the rare map, so reasonably? There seem to be two explanations. The first is that, according to Mr. Burnley who asked, she bought her copy for a song at a country auction. The second reason is probably that her copy didn't look very good to her. The English have high standards for condition and this copy can be charitably described as unsophisticated. This is an early American printing however and subject to different interpretation on this side of the pond. The only relevant comparison is to other copies of the same book. The book is, by standard calculation, below par, the map intriguing and probably comparatively exceptional.
From eBay to Christies in 81 Days
An expanded view
The seller doesn't cite any bibliographic references though citations are given in the online listings she refers to. Had she delved into its history she would have found a book already noted for rarity by Sabin 130 years ago.
In Howes' Usiana [published in 1952 and reprinted several times since] the book is rated as highly uncommon - rare enough to warrant a 'd', a rating [d and dd] only 2% of the 10,520 items rated are given. Howes mentions that the map is usually missing thereby implying the 'd' is for the book thus suggesting the map exists in another planetary system altogether.
Had the seller accessed the AED, as Mr. Burnley did, she would have seen that a copy WITHOUT THE MAP sold a year ago at Christie's in the Frank Streeter sale for $31,000. That was a high realization. The estimate was $10,000 to $15,000 and the bidders breathing helium: that auction the rare amalgam of highly respected single owner, well described and choreographed presentation and financial bubble. In fact that sale overall realized more than $16.0 million. It was an exceptional event. Almost everything in the sale went high. [To read the story about the Frank Streeter auction from the May 2007 issue of AE Monthly, or view the video from the sale, click here.]
Now let's consider this book's broader sales history. Without the map, it occasionally appears, with the map rarely. In the AED [Americana Exchange Database of almost two million records] we find 18 20th century auction records for copies without the map. Four copies were offered in 2007 and three sold. The estimated current value of all 20th century records is $5,715, $15,576 for three sales completed in 2007. The book has recently been strong, hence Christie's Streeter estimate in 2007 of $10,000 to $15,000 was consistent with recent records but high by historical standards.
This copy of course contains the map so prices for the book without the map become the launch pad for copies with. In the AED we have identified two records that do. In 1969 Frank Streeter's father, Thomas Streeter, sold at auction his [and it's a different] copy for $4,100. In his copy the map was backed and missing a fragment, a fact that would cause some purists to sniff. In 1978 another backed copy sold for $4,750. We today estimate the present value of these two sales at $49,488 and $25,500. Add to these numbers the unarguable fact that Hawaii, Captain Cook and the South Seas have become a collecting obsession and these numbers simply recede into history like mileage posts whizzing by on a busy highway. Then subtract the worldwide financial collapse. Next consider this. The Chocolatepickle-Burnley copy [arguably the greatest sounding provenance in the history of book collecting] has a better copy of the map than either of these comps.
This copy is unsophisticated. This means that it has not been "improved" and that's a strong positive. It of course lacks the 161-162 leaf, a negative. According to Chris Coover of Christie's the book was probably issued in boards and perhaps a decade or two later bound in leather. Some copies have the map bound in at 161-162 so it's possible the map was removed at that time and bound at front. A tasteful facsimile of the missing leaf can be obtained without too much difficulty. The book, in any event, is the chorus, the map the mezzo-soprano. The map has some tears and has been mended, has been nibbled at the base but is over all quite good and the paper is bright. In the hands of a first class restorer a little tweaking will make this an exceptional copy.
From eBay to Christies in 81 Days
The Sandwich Islands
You have already read Chocolatepickle's description. Now let's read Christie's as it is given in Friday 5 December 2008 in New York: Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including Americana sale. It is lot 267:
LEDYARD, John (1751-1789). A Journal of Captain Cook's last voyage to the Pacific Ocean and in quest of a North-West Passage between Asia & America. Hartford, Conn.: Nathaniel Patten, 1783. Estimate $50,000 to $70,000
8o (172 x 116 mm). ENGRAVED FRONTISPIECE MAP: "Chart shewing the Tracks of the Ship's employed in Capt. Cook's last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779," 348 x 334 mm platemark (worn with some loss along lower border central horizontal fold and several tears repaired on verso with some minor loss to image). (Lacking text leaf V1, lower corners of last few gatherings a bit soiled.) Contemporary calf, red morocco lettering piece (some minor rubbing). Provenance: ink inscription on rear free endpaper: "5th May 1799--the Year for joining articles No 65 St Johns Street London"; Herbery Foreseter, Sketty Park (ink stamp on title, ink inscription dated 1873 on title and dated March 7th 1874 on front free endpaper).
THE FIRST COPY WITH A MAP TO APPEAR AT AUCTION SINCE THE STREETER SALE IN 1968. ONE OF THE RAREST ACCOUNTS OF COOK'S VOYAGES AND OF GREAT INTEREST TO THE HISTORY OF THE NORTHWEST COAST AND ITS EXPLORATION
FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST AMERICAN BOOK ON THE NORTHWEST COAST, AND THE FIRST AMERICAN BOOK ON HAWAII, originally issued in two parts in June and July 1783. This copy is bound from the parts, and exhibits stab-marks in signatures A-K (part I), varying stab-marks and none in V to the end (part II); the missing leaf is perhaps not coincidentally the first leaf of part 3 that is without stabmarks. The manuscript note on the rear fly leaf presumably records the date of binding the parts together into the present volume.
Ledyard served as a corporal of Marines on board the Resolution. He was one of the oarsmen on the boat Cook took ashore when he met his death on Hawaii. His journal, with all other journals, was retained by the Admiralty on the expeditions' return, but after jumping ship and returning to his family in Hartford, he was persuaded to re-write the journal (largely from memory) which was then published. Later in his career he made some remarkable overland journeys (largely on foot) and eventually accidentally killed himself in Cairo by drinking vitriol.
His journal is of special value in that it is a narrative of the only American who accompanied Captain Cook on his last voyage, which included several visits to Alaska. The book is extremely rare, and the map is even rarer: according to American Book Prices Current, no copy has appeared at auction in the last 30 years containing a genuine map.
The map is a close copy of the one appearing in John Rickman's journal (1781), though here the title is surrounded in a cartouche and there are many differences in spelling. Forbes notes, in relation to the map's rarity, that "The wrapper title of Part I does not mention its presence (although the main title does). Due to the erratic nature of American printing of the period, it may well be that the map was not produced until the work was well under way, or that it cost extra to purchasers, as some copies examined show no evidence that it was ever present. In the American Antiquarian Society copy, the map is bound on a stub at page 161 (the beginning of part III [and intriguingly the text leaf that is here lacking]). This appears to be added evidence that the map did not appear until the last part of the publication was issued."
CENSUS OF COPIES AT AUCTION WITH THE MAP:
1. George Brinley. Sold 1879, lot 2080. Sold for $5.
2. William C. Braislin. Small portion of the map containing the title, the rest in facsimile. Sold 1927, lot 1138. Sold for $115.
3.Thomas W. Streeter. His sale part VI, April 1969, lot 3477. The map backed with old linen repairing many long tears, half of left margin, with some print, torn off; four 1 to 2 cm. holes, affecting three words. Sold for $4,100. Now in the Hill Collection.
Of the 24 copies listed in the census in Forbes, only 5 have complete maps and one has a fragment.
Evans 17998; Forbes 52; Hill 991 (the Thomas W. Streeter copy, with the map); Howes L-181 ("d"); Lada-Mocarski 36; Mitchell Library Cook 1603; Sabin 39691 ("Very rare"); Smith 5797; Streeter sale VI:3477; Wickersham 6556.
We know that Christie's believes this book and its map is important because they took it on short notice making the trip from eBay to Christie's in what must be record time. And given that the catalog closed a month ago this means that before Mr. Burnley settled his credit card invoice this copy was on its way to New York for consideration. And now, just 81 days since Mr. Burnley clicked the buy-it-now button on eBay, someone else will almost certainly keep their paddle raised until this rare bounty falls to them. And in buying it they buy a very rare object in a highly competitive field and add their name to the Chocolatepickle-Burnley provenance. It will make a great story and become part of book collecting lore.
Best of luck.