Formerly Top Secret German Rocketry Papers Highlight Books & Manuscripts Sale at Bonhams New York

Incredible historic documents of interest to private collectors and institutional curators come to auction in New York City on Tuesday, December 4, 2007 – including a German ‘Top Secret’ rocketry document, a scarce copy of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, rare signed papers of US Presidents and the document announcing the establishment of the State of Israel. Additional desirable material includes an archive of early original Charles Schultz sketches and original drawings by Theodor Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss.

Previews open Saturday, 1 December, continuing daily until sale day, at Bonhams New York – on the sixth floor of the Fuller Building in Manhattan. The auction’s 336-lots comprise world history and Americana, important first editions, comic art from America’s favorite illustrators and material related to instrumental thought-leaders. The illustrated sale catalog is online for review at

Scientific manuscripts have become a hot collectible in recent years and considered incredible is the 166-page manuscript, with hand-written annotations throughout and charts and graphs, composed by Wernher Von Braun, technical director of Germany’s V-2 rocket program during World War II, and later, the first director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville, AL. Expected to sell for as much as $30,000, the document was created for Von Braun’s PH.D dissertation (Technical University of Berlin). Considered groundbreaking for its time, the paper is recognized today as an important milestone in the development of modern rockets. The document is dated April 1934 and the pages were classified as ‘Top Secret,’ remaining unpublished until 1960.

Born in Wirsitz, Prussia into an aristocratic family, Von Braun as a young man was an indifferent student in physics and mathematics until he became captivated by the prospects of space discovery after reading the science fiction works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. It was Hermann Oberth’s landmark 1923 study Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (By Rocket to Space) that prompted Von Braun to devote himself to the study of calculus and trigonometry in order to understand the physics of rocketry. One day in the spring of 1932, while participating with university rocket club members, a black sedan pulled up at the Raketenflugplatz and three representatives of the German military openly observed a test of the club’s latest rocket. Impressed with what they’d been covertly documenting, they persuaded Von Braun to begin work on a secret doctoral dissertation for the army.

Von Braun completed his dissertation, “Design, Theoretical and Experimental Contributions to the Problem of the Liquid-Fuel Rocket,” in mid-April of 1934. The German military considered the dissertation so instrumental that the work was given a cover name “Regarding Combustion Experiments,” which was to appear in any graduation publications and on Von Braun’s diploma. After passing his dissertation defense, the original typescript was secured by the military, as it was considered too dangerous to remain within the university archives.

Von Braun worked for the German military at Peenemunde, a research and development base located on the Baltic Sea. His team was responsible for developing liquid rocket fuel engines for jet aircraft as well as ballistic missiles and anti-aircraft missiles. After Von Braun and his team surrendered to the American forces, he was brought to the United States to lead this country’s rocket development team. He spent the next decades developing U.S. missile technology and pushing for manned space flight.

According to Books & Manuscripts Department Director, Dr. Catherine Williamson, “Von Braun’s revolutionary dissertation changed the course of world history. It allows the reader a rare glimpse into the beginning of a great career.”

Another Peenemunde Research Facility document could bring $15,000 to $20,000 while other material of this era on offer includes an archive of WWII photographs shot by a US soldier and a signed presentation copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (est. $8/12,000).

The Winter books & manuscripts sale includes a desirable copy of the 1818 Tyler copy of the Declaration of Independence on vellum (est. $10/12,000), the first to include facsimile signatures of the “Founding Fathers.” A signed document of James Garfield (considered rare as his time in office was abruptly ended) could bring as much as $8,000 while an 1832 letter in which Andrew Jackson cancels his purchase of four slaves could bring $7,000 to $9,000. John Hancock letters, signed Thomas Jefferson documents, papers of Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and Abe Lincoln are to be sold to the highest bidders.

Multiple lots are of interest to New York collectors including copies of John Peter Zenger’s New York Weekly Journal, the first North American newspaper to be outspokenly critical of the Colonial government; a document signed in 1687 by a Dutch New York resident; and an important archive of documents relating to Native Americans and the 1788 settlement of New York State’s Ontario County (est. $25/35,000). An interesting document in Hebrew is a three-page 1948 flyer which announced the formation of the State of Israel. As the British Mandate over Palestine expired, the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum and approved this proclamation declaring the establishment of the Jewish state (est. $5/8,000).

Of interest to the literati are: a fourth folio edition of the works of William Shakespeare, handsomely bound, printed in 1685, and expected to bring as much as $35,000; a five-volume 1804 first edition of the works of Plato; a fine copy of the Doves Press English Bible (est. $5/7,000) and a first edition of an 1854 work considered the first book produced in America using color lithography (est. $20/30,000). A pair of portrait paintings by Eugene Paul Ullman depicting the poet Ezra Pound and Margaret Cravens (considered by many to have been his paramour) are offered together with a copy of Pound’s Exultations inscribed to Cravens (est. $6/9,000). As well, a seven-volume octavo edition of Audubon’s The Birds of America is valued at $30,000 to $50,000.

Appealing to collectors are original drawings by Charles Schultz, sketches likely created for development of early Peanuts merchandizing products. Each is drawn with profile and _ views – mug shots, if you will – depicting Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Patty, Schroeder and Violet, each estimated at $1,200 to $1,800. Other Schultz drawings in pencil, many colored by the artist, include Peppermint Patty, Snoopy and Charlie’s adorable sister, Sally. Several signed drawings and personal letters of Theodor Geisel depict the “Cat in the Hat,” a pair of “Who” characters and fanciful beasts, each is signed Dr. Seuss. A collection including 29 original drawings on paper by the esteemed New Yorker cartoonist George Booth will be offered with letters and books co-authored by Henry Morgan, the lot expected to bring $8,000 to $12,000.