$212,000 for Lewis & Clark at PBA Galleries

. May 31, 2008

The first edition of the official account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, arguably the single most important work pertaining to the exploration of the interior of the North American continent, set a new record for the sale of a book at PBA Galleries in San Francisco when it was bid to $212,000.

pba-galleries.jpgThe cornerstone lot in the auction of The Northwest Part of America: The Library of John M. Steinbrugge, held on May 29th, 2008, the exceptional price for the Lewis and Clark reflected the enduring strength of the rare book market for landmark works of great rarity and significance. The Steinbrugge copy of History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark to the Sources of the Missouri, two volumes, published in Philadelphia in 1814, was a particularly choice example, bound in contemporary tree calf, and containing a pristine example of the large frontispiece map. Indeed, the copper-engraved map, the first to portray the Transmississippi West with a degree of accuracy, was a monumental achievement in its own right, and is much more valuable, in monetary terms, than the book itself. Each of the volumes bore the bookplate of noted collector Frederick W. Skiff, and before him had belonged to timber baron Simon Benson of Portland, Oregon.

The bidding on the lot began at $50,000, the standard house reserve at PBA Galleries of one-half of the lower portion of the $100,000/150,000 presale estimate. None of the auction attendees were to be players, but there were a half-dozen phone bidders on the line, and a remote bidder on the Internet was also able to contribute as the price slowly rose in $5,000 increments to $100,000, then in $10,000 jumps. Each bid became a more agonizing decision, and finally it was down to two phone bidders for the last $40,000. When all was settled, the hammer came down at $180,000, which, with the addition of PBA’s buyer’s premium of 20% for the first $100,000, and 15% for the amount above that, came to the record $212,000. The winning bidder was Graham Arader, one of the leading rare book, map and print dealers in the world.

Great success was met by other Lewis and Clark material in the collection of John Steinbrugge, a structural engineer who had formed his library over some thirty years while designing earthquake-proof buildings in Southern California, before returning to his native Portland. The first English edition of the account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, a single large quarto volume also published in 1814, the present example a wide-margined copy in a handsome modern morocco binding, sold for $21,600 against an estimate of $10,000/15,000. The two-volume Dublin edition, 1817, a close reprint of the American first edition, split the estimate at $10,800. The first edition of Patrick Gass’s Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery under the Command of Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clarke, 1807, the first detailed account by a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition to be published, in a fine modern binding, fetched $7,800. And the 1806 Message from the President of the United States, Communicating Discoveries Made in Exploring the Missouri, Red River and Washita, by Captains Lewis and Clark, the first edition of the first book containing information regarding the Lewis and Clark expedition, doubled the high estimate when it brought $6,000.

Other highlights in the 300-lot auction included a set of the three voyages of Captain James Cook in first edition, complete in nine volumes including the atlas volume to the third voyage, topping the estimate at $39,000. The important overland narrative of Overton Johnson and William H. Winter, Route Across the Rocky Mountains with a Description of Oregon and California, printed in a very small edition on a newspaper press in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1846, one of only two contemporary printed accounts of the 1843 migration to Oregon, rose to $16,800 amidst strong competition. A rare record of Cook’s third voyage by an American, John Ledyard’s A Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, published in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1783, sold for $10,800. A manuscript journal kept by Peveril Meigs, recording the first U.S. government sponsored voyage to Alaska following its purchase from Russia in 1867, with original photographs of Meigs and his cousin, expedition leader Captain Richard Warsam Meade, went at $15,600.

The important seven-sheet Topographical Map of the Road from Missouri to Oregon, by Charles Preuss, 1846, brought $6,000. J. Quinn Thornton’s Oregon and California: The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California…1848, an important early work on the California gold fields which also contained the first fairly lengthy account of the Donner tragedy, doubled the $2,000/3,000 estimate at $4,500. The 32-volume set of Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites, an important collection of significant early travels and expeditions of exploration into the uncharted west, reprinted from scarce original editions, went for $5,700. Samuel C. Damon’s A Trip from the Sandwich Islands to Lower Oregon, and Upper California, a rare work printed in Honolulu in 1849, brought $5,400. A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay, to the Northern Ocean, 1795, by Samuel Hearne, the first white man to travel overland to the Arctic Ocean and the discoverer of Great Slave Lake, was bid to $8,400. The first octavo edition of George Vancouver’s A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and Round the World, 6 volumes, 1801, was hammered down at $5,700. The important 6-volume Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, 1845, including the atlas, sold at $7,800. George Wilkes’ scarce work on the Oregon boundary controversy The History of Oregon, Geographical and Political, 1845, fetched $6,600. And the penultimate lot in the sale, John B. Wyeth’s Oregon; or a Short History of a Long Journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Region of the Pacific, by Land, 1833, the first printed account of the first emigrant party to cross the plains, split the $8,000/12,000 estimate at $9,000. Note: All prices listed include the buyer’s premium.

The full catalogue, and results of each lot, may be viewed at the PBA website, www.pbagalleries.com. All items are pictured in the online catalogue, but high-resolution images for each of the lots described in this article, suitable for publication, may be received via email. Contact shannon@pbagalleries.com.

For information about consigning material to PBA Galleries’ next auction of Americana, in July of 2008, or to other future auctions at PBA, please contact Bruce MacMakin (bruce@pbagalleries.com).

About PBA Galleries
PBA Galleries is the only specialist auction house in the West devoted to rare books, manuscripts, and maps. Focused primarily on personal collections and exceptional books, recent offerings have included the sale of maps and atlases from the Ernst W. Gerber collection; The Library of Ford Mitchell: Early Americana, Texas & the West; The Daniel G. Volkmann, Jr., Collection of Fine California Press Books; The Botanical Library of J. Roy Barrette of Brooklin, Maine; and many more. PBA Galleries provides clients the benefits of its staff of appraisers, online and printed catalogues, and biweekly gallery auctions where clients can bid in person, email, and in real time from their computer.

Category: Auction News

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