Sotheby's,
Travel, Atlases, Natural History and Maps

June 7th 1999
(hammer prices, plus premium of 15% 
on the first £30,000 of the hammer price
and at a rate of 10% on the amount by which the hammer price 
of the lot exceeds £30,000).
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The sale contained 333 lots, with some 276 falling into the category of maps or travel books, so only a few items can be highlighted here

Lot 75 was an example of Bowen and Kitchin's 'Large English Atlas', sold by Robert Sayer, issued with an apparently unrecorded second title printed in French, bearing Sayer's address.  On account of its size, the atlas generally has problems with internal condition, but this was a very nice example, with the 47 mapsheets in original outline colour.  The estimate always seemed low (£3,000-4,000), but strong competition required a winning bid of £10,000 -  a strong price indeed.

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To the first of the separate maps of the British Isles and, indeed, the first woodcut map of the British Isles to be published: Nicolaus Germanus' untitled ptolemaic map from 1482, with the characteristic west-east orientation for Scotland.  This example was in the bright blue colour associated with the First Edition, but applied in rather an unattractive, smudged fashion.  Estimated at £6,500-7,500, it sold for the upper estimate.

Lot 90 was a rare map of the British Isles published by Willem Blaeu, circa 1630.  An example of a 'carte à figures', the map was set in panelled borders incorporating portrait of King James I and Charles I, twelve plans or prospect of principal British cities, and 10 vignettes of costume figures.  An attractive example, but with restoration and the colour re-touched, interest on the day was limited, and it was unsold at £5,500 (estimate of £6,500-7,500)

Lots 92 and 93 were two early delineations of Edinburgh.  The first was a sheet with a pair of prospects of the city, drawn by James Gordon, and published in Amsterdam by Johannes Blaeu, circa 1654.  Gordon was one of the compilers and editors of Blaeu's atlas of Scotland, the first printed atlas of the country, but for some reason this sheet was never included in the atlas, hence its rarity.  One possible explanation is that Gordon never intended his sketchy panoramas to be done as a separate sheet, and prevented their inclusion in the atlas.

The piece generated great interest in the Scottish press, reflected by strong competition on the day. Estimated at £500-700, the purchaser secured the item with a bid of £1,800.  Lot 93, Craig's 'Plan of the New Streets And Squares intended for the City of Edinburgh' clearly benefited from all the interest, and on an estimate of £300-500, sold for £1,100.

The next item was Johannes Baptist Vrients map of England and Wales, from the 1608 Italian text edition of Abraham Ortelius' 'Theatrum'.  With a large genealogical tables of the English Kings and Queens it is one of the most decorative and popular maps of England.  Estimated at £1,500-2,000, it fetched £1,600.

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The sale had a good selection of maps with panelled borders, spread throughout.  The principal lot (147) was John Overton's scarce set of the four Continents, in their second state, published circa 1670.  These examples were familiar to many as having been unsold at Christie's last year.  The estimate again seemed high - £10,000-15,000 - but they managed to sell on the low estimate.  Another example of the Africa was also offered separately, selling for £2,200 (estimate £1,000-1,500).

Two others were from a similar set of panelled maps, published by Robert Walton in the 1660's. Europe, lot 105 sold for £1,500 (estimate £2,000-2,600), and the Africa, lot 193, for £2,200 (estimate £1,000-1,500).

Lot 106, Visscher's panelled map of France sold for £1,000 (estimate £1,500-2,000), which seemed very cheap, even considering how difficult maps of France are to sell. Speed's China, lot 210, fetched £1,000 (estimate £800-1,000).  Visscher's map of  the Americas, dated 1652, was a less appealing example, trimmed to the engraved area, with restoration, failed to sell, being unsold at £4,200 (estimate £6,000-8,000).

The final example of the genre, and one of the most attractive of the Leo Belgicus series (wherein the Low Countries were portrayed in the form a lion) was lot 110, Visscher's Leo Hollandicus'.  In view of the restoration, the estimate of £14,000-16,000 seemed high, and so it proved when the lot struggled, before selling for £12,000.

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One of the most popular of the English atlases is Herman Moll's 'The World Described.' Composed of a set of maps on two sheets joined.  Unfortunately, Moll adopted a tall narrow folio format for the binding, necessitating folding the maps three times.  The two outer folds are particularly susceptible to creasing, splitting or other damage.  Lot 128 was a reasonable example of the atlas, with the attendant faults, but would-be purchasers seemed not to be perturbed by these problems, requiring a winning bid of £21,000 (estimate £12,000-14,000), which makes the near mint example sold at Sotheby's in March for £28,000 look good value.

One of the more surprising failures was lot 130, an example of Thomas Jefferys Sr.'s North American Pilot, published by Laurie and Whittle in 1808, illustrated right.  This was a late issue of the atlas, which was first published in 1776.  Generally, it seemed a very nice example, although the large format meant that some of the charts were creased, but otherwise internally it was very clean.  While one might speculate that it being a nineteenth century re-issue of an eighteenth century book was disincentive to would-be purchasers, nonetheless it is one of the two principal English sea-atlases of the period, the other being des Barres' 'Atlantic Neptune'.  While the des Barres is the superior atlas (and valued accordingly), the 'North American Pilot' does seem scarcer, so for it to be unsold without even attracting a bid was a real surprise (£34,000, estimate £40,000-60,000).

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An unusual item was a small map-cabinet, made in about 1845, in France.  The cabinet, of brass-inlaid rosewood veneer, contained 6 sections with 14 maps mounted on linen, and attached to spring-loaded rollers, so that the entire case was only 9cm deep, 42cm high, and 66cm wide.  Some of the maps were a little frail, but overall this was an interesting piece, which sparked much interest.  The estimate of £3,000-4,000 was quickly passed, as the item finally reached £8,200.

The last lot of the morning sale was the major item of the sale, a very rare wall-map of the World, on twelve sheets joined, published by Robert Morden in London in 1699.  Ver rare yes, but an estimate of £100,000-120,000?  Surely not.  In the end, the estimate proved a strong psychological barrier, as many potential purchasers set their strategy on waiting for it to be unsold before making an offer.  With that in mind, when the bidding started, everyone sat on their hands.  Well, all bar one, and to the astonishment of everyone, bar one, the map was sold, on the low estimate of £100,000.

The cataloguer had done a very good job of setting the map in context, and explaining its rarity but it has to be said that, in the flesh, the map lacked any visual impact.  However, as one of three known examples, the purchaser clearly saw merit in it, and all said and done, he won't find another example.

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The catalogue had a strong section of sheet maps of North America, including some rare separately published items. Lot 235  was a four-sheet map of the Americas, published by Pierre Duval in 1679 which, if joined would measure 810 x 1030mm.  Estimated at £6,000-8000, it was unsold at £3,800.

A scarce broadsheet map of New York and environs was offered as lot 244. Published by William Hawkes, it was issued as a pictorial news-map of the course of the Revolutionary War.  Below the map was a table of dates, commencing with the Boston Tea Party, and ending with the landing of British forces on Long Island, on September 15th 1776.  A small portion of the text was missing, but broadsheets of this kind often have such problems. However, the bidding proceeded slowly, and the map sold for £550 (estimate £500-700).

From a similar date was Sayer and Bennett's 'The Theatre Of War In North America', published on November 20th 1776 (lot 249).  This was the very much scarcer second version of this general map of Eastern North America, incorporating a detailed distance table, and with an extensive letterpress text printed below the map, headed 'A Compendious Account Of The British Colonies In North America'.  The map sold for £2,600, despite an estimate of £3,000-4,000.

A further surprise came with lot 263, a group of five maps by John Colton: Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota, & India Territory, 1864; Kentucky and Tennessee, 1869; New York, 1872; Montana, Idaho & Wyoming, 1876, and Maine 1878.  Each of the maps folded into original cloth covers.  The estimate of £1,000-£1,500 looked high, but there was clearly more to the lot than appeared at first glance, as the winning bid was £3,400, a tremendous price, or all in just under £800 each.

Lot 265 was Samuel Hill's engraved version of Andrew Ellicott's manuscript plan for the design of the city of Washington - by coincidence Christie's sale of June 1st offered the Thackara and Vallance version of the same map.  The background to this is quite interesting. Thackara and Vallance were originally commissioned to engrave the map, but proceeded very slowly.  As the plan was needed to help promote land-sales, Ellicott approached Samuel Hill, and supplied him with a second draught, which was quickly completed and published.  So, while the Thackara and Vallance is the official version, Hill's engraving takes precedence in chronology, and seems to be more rarely seen on the market, so active competition took the hammer price to £6,000 (estimate £2,000-3,000).

Lot 268 was a rare - unique - example of that most interesting of maps, a finished manuscript version of an original hydrographic survey, all the more interesting in that the survey was performed by James Cook, the quintessential English navigator.  The survey depicted a small area of the southern coast of Newfoundland, part of the detailed survey work carried out by Cook between 1763 and 1765.  It was in this survey that Cook made his reputation, which earned him command of H.M.S. Endeavour, in his three hugely important voyages into the Pacific.  Indeed, this section of coast appears to be the final survey made by Cook in Newfoundland, before being given his new command. Estimated at £12,000-15,000, the chart sold for £18,000.

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From the first county atlas of England and Wales, compiled by Christopher Saxton came the map of Cumberland and Westmorland, a particularly good example, in fine original hand colouring (lot 99). With a high estimate (£2,000-2,500), it sold for £2,700. 
 
 
 

 

One of the most famous plans from Braun and Hogenberg's 'Civitates Orbis Terrarum' is the two sheet plan of classical Rome, published in 1588 (lot 115), which sold for £1050, against an estimate of £600-800. 
Lot 161 was the Ortelius world, the third plate, used from 1579 onwards. Unusually it was without text on the reverse, but in bright original hand colour. Estimated at £2,000-2,500, it sold for £2,100. 
Lot 237 was the third plate used for Ortelius' America, with the noticeable bulge in South America corrected.  This example, with hand-colouring, came from the 1598 French text edition, and had some minor repairs, which dampened enthusiam, with the lot being knocked down for £1,700 (estimate £2,200-£2,600). 
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Another rare chart, this one printed, was Arent Roggeveen's chart of Cuba and Jamaica, confusingly orientated with south at the top of the page, from the first printed coasting-pilot of the coastal waters of Eastern North America and the West Indies. The chart sold for the low estimate (£3,000-4,000).
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