AE Monthly

Articles - December - 2008 Issue

From eBay to Christies in 81 Days

Burn2

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.

AE Monthly


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