Sotheby’s, London: December 10th, 1998: Natural History, Atlases And Travel
(hammer prices given; Premium: 15% on the first £30,000 of the hammer price, 10% thereafter)
Pre-sale interest centred on a collection of 74 maps from a ‘Lafreri atlas’ (a composite atlas produced in Italy in the third-quarter of the sixteenth century), sold as separate lots, and an early eighteenth century equivalent, in book form, published by the Widow and sons of Joachim Ottens, in Amsterdam circa 1720.
The Ottens atlas, with 141 maps, contained a number of rare maps and plans, for example Gerard van Keulen’s two sheet map of Eastern North America.  However, what really set the atlas apart was the fine original hand-colouring, particularly on the series of town plans distributed throughout (the Venice illustrated here). The pre-sale estimate of £14,000-16,000 seemed conservative, and on the day the atlas went for £47,000 to a trade buyer.
Also distinguished by fine hand colouring was a 1608 Italian edition of Abraham Ortelius’ ‘Theatrum’, published by Jan Baptist Vrients.  The largest and most complete of the Antwerp editions, with 227 maps on 165 sheets, the maps were also in better than normal condition, as several of the larger ones are frequently found trimmed by careless binding.  Estimated at £40,000-60,000, the atlas sold for £90,000.
The real surprises in the sale, however, came from the group of ‘Lafreri-School maps’, with one lot far exceeding all expectations.  The pre-eminent cartographer of the school, and central figure in Italian cartography of the period was Giacomo Gastaldi, a Piedmontese geographer working in Venice.  Lot 147 was his map of the World, one of his earliest publications, and among his most important - “a landmark in Italian cartographic production”, according to Rodney Shirley, the authority on early world maps.

Despite restoration, with an area of loss affecting the sea, its rarity and importance won out, with heavy competition driving the price to £132,000 (against a pre-sale estimate of £20,000-25,000), which - so far as anyone can remember - is the highest price paid at auction for a single printed map.  In comparison, the other two world maps sold closer to estimate, the Salamanca / Lafreri World for £40,000 (estimate £25,000 - £30,000), and the Florianus for £21,000 (estimate £15,000-20,000), although the latter was also restored with loss.

The other principal map of the group, Zaltieri’s North America, one of the earliest separate maps of the region, sold well at £48,000 (estimate £25,000-30,000), but more in line with general expectation in the room.

Zaltieri North America
Tramezini Portugal
Camocio Cyprus
Re British Isles

The other surprise of the group, and in some ways the most surprising result of all, was Michele Tramezini’s map of Portugal, drawn by Fernando Alvares Seco.  The earliest printed map of Portugal, the estimate of £1,500-2,000 counted for nothing as two determined collectors took the map to £21,000.   Camocio's map of Cyprus, another area blessed with determined collectors, sold for £7,500 (estimate £ 2,000-2,200), while the British Isles (estimate £6,000-8,000) attracted a winning bid of £11,000.

The Middle East, another buoyant area, saw Lafreri’s map of Persia and the Near East fetch £13,000 (estimate £4,000-6,000), while Gastaldi’s Arabia reached £11,000 (estimate £5,000-7,000).

At the lower end, however, many of the maps struggled to exceed their estimates (which were not overly ambitious), and 14 lots failed to find buyers.

Eliot ‘Carte Du Theatre De La Guerre...'Among the more general single-sheet lots, there was a group of three of the earliest maps to refer to the United States in their title (a topic discussed in more detail in this magazine, Maps of the USA).  In successive lots, Sotheby’s offered the Eliot map ‘Carte Du Theatre De La Guerre Actuel Entre Les Anglais Et Les Treize Colonies Unies De L’Amerique ...’ (traditionally perceived as having the first reference to the United States on a map), Robert de Vaugondy’s ‘Carte Du Canada Et Des Etats-Unis ...’ (a more recent claimant to the same title), both published in 1778, and Robert de Vaugondy’s ‘Amerique Septentrionale ... Ou Se Remarquent Les Etats Unis ...’, of 1783.

The traditional claimant went for a winning bid of £10,000 (estimate £10,000-15,000, a figure arrived at from previous auction records), while the ‘new kid on the block’, the Robert de Vaugondy sold for £4,500 (estimate £900-1,200).  In contrast, the ‘Amerique Septentrionale’, despite being one of the earliest maps of North America to show the United States, sold for a modest £500 (estimate £500-700).

At the other range of the spectrum, from the discovery period of the Americas, was offered a rare map of Canada, by Samuel de Champlain, the ‘Father of New France’, published in 1632.  Described as “one of the outstanding maps of Canada”, the map also contained important information for the New York and New England regions. Estimated at £14,000-16,000, the map fetched £24,000.

Geographically of a similar period was an untitled manuscript chart of the sweep of West Indies’ islands from Puerto Rico to Trinidad, apparently a straight Dutch copy of a Spanish chart, retaining the original toponomy.  The map is apparently very similar to charts from Dutch sea-atlases, published from the late 1650’s onwards, from when this example may date.  Despite its interest, the chart sold for only £2,800 (estimate £2,500-3,000).

One of the most attractive single lots in the sale was a unsigned manuscript chart of the Mediterranean Sea, but including the Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal and France, and southern Britain.  Apparently a late example of the portolan chart genre, which reached a pinnacle of importance in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, this example was attributed to Placido Caloiro e Oliva, and dated circa 1640. It sold for £36,000 (estimate £25,000-30,000)