A specially-designed flag that flew over Alcatraz when it was occupied by Native Americans for 19 months from 1969 to 1971 was bid to $69,000 after opening at $50,000 at PBA Galleries’ auction of Americana with Manuscript Material – Photographs – Views – California Pictorial Letter Sheets on January 24th, 2008.

alcatraz-flag.jpgThe red and white striped flag, with a tipi design of yellow stars on a black and brown background, was christened “Old Glory’s Helper Flag” by its creator, Lulie Nall, a Penobscot Indian living in San Francisco at the time of the occupation. Conceived as a more inclusive companion to the Stars and Stripes that had symbolized the United States since Revolutionary times, the flag was taken by Nall to Alcatraz in the early days of the occupation, and had been pictured in a San Francisco Chronicle story in January of 1970, flying from prison guard tower. The flag, accompanied by several folders of documentation and supporting materials, sold to a collector in Texas, who expressed his support for the American Indian movement and hinted that he might loan the flag to an appropriate museum.

Also on the block was a first edition of The Book of Mormon, the cornerstone text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, with the rare leaf of testimonials at the end. Written by Joseph Smith (or translated by him from the Plates of Nephi, according to church doctrine) and published in Palmyra, New York, in 1830, the book has enjoyed a surge in value over the past several years. The copy on offer had been rebacked, with a new leather spine, but still fetched a very respectable $80,050. The cornerstone document of the United Sates received keen interest as well, with a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, printed in 1848 by Peter Force from the copperplate made by William J. Stone using a wet-ink transfer process, selling for $16,100.

Hawaii proved popular as always, with a rare panoramic view of Lahaina as seen from Lahainaluna, printed at Hale Pa`i O Lahainaluna (Printing House of Lahainaluna), c.1838, overcame condition problems including foxing and marginal loss to sell for a surprising $18,400. A companion print, View of Kailua Hawaii, in better condition but not as scarce, brought $8,625. And an incomplete run of 56 issues of the weekly newspaper The Polynesian, published in Honolulu, 1840-1845, rose to an astonishing $8,625.

Other notable lots in the auction included single volumes from the octavo edition of John J. Audubon’s The Birds of America, 1840 and 1841, creating a stir when they reached $10,925 apiece after spirited bidding; the rare account of Joseph Heco’s experiences in California during the time of the Gold Rush, The Narrative of a Japanese, 1893-95, fetched $4,312; a hand-colored mezzotint of George Washington, Esqr and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in America, after the painting by Alexander Campbell, published in London in 1775, went at $6,325; New Orleans Characters by Leon Joseph Fremaux, with 16 hand-colored lithographed plates of denizens of the Big Easy, 1876, brought $4,600; A Natural and Civil History of California by Miguel Venegas, 2 volumes, 1759, the first edition in English of the first history of California, sold for $4,600; and The Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1867, published by Henry G. Langley, surprised bidders when it rose to $3,450.

The biggest excitement of the auction, however, was reserved for the run of 52 California Pictorial Letter Sheets from the time of the Gold Rush. Designed for writing letters back east with views of California towns, depictions of current happenings, caricatures, and maps, the popular ephemeral items provided an exclamation point to highly successful auction. Among the most notable were Great Earthquake in San Francisco, October 8th, 1865. [No. 1], hammered down at $2,587; James Stuart Hung by the Vigilance Committee on Market St. Wharf, on the 11th of July 1851, also fetching $2,587; The Great Earthquake in San Francisco, October 8th, 1865. – No. 2, rising to $3,162; The Miners depicting activities in the northern mines, going for $4,312; and Iowa Hill, Placer County, Cal., a woodcut view of the mining town complete with a letter concerning California politics, selling at $4,887.

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 [email protected]

For information about consigning material to PBA Galleries’ next auction of Americana, in May of 2008, or to other future auctions at PBA, please contact Bruce MacMakin ([email protected]).

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; John Dunlap’s collection from the estate of William Randolph Hearst; 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.