Sotheby's New York:

The Frank T. Siebert Library 
of the
North American Indian & The American Frontier
Friday May 21st 1999

Prices are given in US$, and include the buyers' premium, which "is 15% of the successful bid price up to and including $50,000, and 10% on any amount in excess of $50,000" (on sale day, Sotheby's gave the exchange rate with the GB Pound as £1 - $1.58).
To avoid repetition, the abbreviation "mwba" is adopted here to mean "map with book attached", and reflects the importance of the map over the text.

First of the major Summer sales, we have saved this report for last for the exceptional nature of the sale, and the prices paid.  Single-owner sales always generate the extra excitement that has auction houses rubbing their hands with glee, and Sotheby's emphasised the quality of material on offer by issuing the catalogue hard-bound, prefaced with a glowing tribute to the collector and the fruits of his labour:
"Dr. Siebert's library of the North American Indian is probably the last great collection of Americana to chronicle and follow the frontier across our Continent.  It was formed over a period of more than fifty years by probably the most knowledgeable Americanist of his period [and contains] rarity after rarity in remarkable condition ..."
Indeed, this sale proved to be one of those transitional sales which sets a new bench-mark, a new level of aspiration and expectation, and a completely new price level, almost across the board. 

From the library, Sotheby's offered 548 lots.  Even they, however, can hardly have expected the scale of competition, with many lots selling for five times the lower estimate or more, and most selling for at least double.

Being primarily a "map man", with an interest in travel books which contain maps, it is hard to evaluate prices across the spread of the catalogue, but it did seem that the real premiums were attached to age and rarity, but across the board with comparable items, interest seemed highest in items that were illustrated, and particularly if they contained a map.

While it would be interesting to highlight such obscure (to me) categories such as Bibles in native languages, this review will highlight only individual maps and books containing maps.  Sotheby's described the collection by region, or special topic, while this discussion will adopt a more chronological order.


From the discovery period, came the third edition of Marc Lescarbot's octavo Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (1618) (lot 4), containing four maps, including ones of new France (the first printed map of Canada) and 'Floride Françoise', an area between the modern St. John's River and St. Helena Sound, settled by the French in the 1560s.  The cataloguer suggested this latter appeared only in the third edition, which is hence described as "the most complete edition", but in fact it also appeared in the second edition of 1612.  Against an estimate of $15,000-20,000, the volume sold for $74,000.


Lot 5 was Samuel de Champlain's Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain, published in 1613.  This was the second published narrative of Champlain's voyages, this covering his voyages between 1604 and 1613, and the first to contain a map - the 'Carte Geographiqve De La Nouvelle Franse', dated 1612.  This map, on two-sheets joined, is often lacking, and has been described as "the most important historical cartography of Canada ... (sic)".  The volume contains 10 other folding maps and views, and 12 maps, plans and views set in the text.  Described as "A BEAUTIFUL TALL COPY, RARE IN CONTEMPORARY BINDING", the estimate of $80,00-120,000 did not seem to reflect this claim (the Pierre S. duPont copy sold at Christie's New York for $99,00 in October 1991), and so it proved, with the purchaser paying $398,500.

Lot 7, Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France (Paris, 1632), was Champlain's final  work, which collected together the narratives of all his voyages. This work is illustrated by a new two-sheet map of New France, which extends further south to encompass the New York / New Jersey region.  Here again the estimate ($50,000-70,000) was much in line with the price realised at the duPont sale, and also easily exceeded, selling for $134,500.


The comparable publication for the New England region was John Smith's A Description of New England, (London, 1616), offered as lot 94, which established that name for the region, with a map of the region drawn by Smith, described as "the foundation map of New England cartography".  The example here was of the rare First State of the map, one of only two examples known to have come on the market since the Second World War, but also rarely found in institutional collections.  Always likely to attract attention, the estimate of $40,000-60,000 meant nothing as the book (or more appositely perhaps, the map, with book attached) sold for $211,500.  While that was the result that the map-orientated trade would highlight in the after-sale round-up, which carried continued on to London in subsequent weeks, other remarkable results were to come.


Next on offer (lot 95) was the comparable illustrated volume for Maryland, A Relation Of Maryland, Together, With A Map Of The Countrey... (London, 1635), sadly lacking the engraved map (not found in all examples).  The last complete copy recorded at auction sold in London in 1984, for £55,000.  Here again the situation was very much one of "we offer a map, with attached book". Fifteen years on, without a map, the Siebert copy sold for $18,400 (estimate $8,000-12,000).

From the "missionary period" for Canada came François de Creux's Historiæ Canadensis, (lot 9), published in 1666.  The volume is famed for its plate depicting various Jesuit missionaries being martyred, but also containing a rare map of New France, highlighting missionary routes through the interior, taken from the 'Jesuit Relations'.  While the map had a clean tear, the price paid, $13,800 (estimate $5,000-7,000) seemed low.

The Siebert sale contained a series of rare volumes known as the 'Jesuit Relations', annual collections of missionary accounts for New France.  One volume, Relation De Qui C'Est Passé En La Nouvelle France És Années 1664. & 1665, contained a rare map of the Iroquois territory, in an area bounded by Lake Ontario in the north and Les Trois Rivieres, Lake Champlain and the Hudson River in the east.  Offered as lot 58, estimate $6,000-8,000, it fetched $31,050.


The missionary period for the English colonies came somewhat later, so the accounts are not as historically important as for Canada, but two interesting account with maps appeared.  Lot 141 was David Humphrey's An Historical Account Of The Incorporated Society For The Propagation Of The Gospel in Foreign Parts. Containing Their Foundation, Proceedings, And The Success Of Their Missionaries In The British Colonies, published in 1730.  The volume contained 2 folding maps by Herman Moll; while the information on the map of the Carolinas is taken from Moll's 'New And Exact Map Of The Dominions Of The King Of Great Britain On Y.e Continent Of North America ...' (the so-called 'Beaver Map', named after the inset of beavers damming a river), I know of no other map containing the information on that of New England.  Estimated at $1,000-2,000, it sold for $3,162, which seemed not bad value on the day.

Indeed, lot 143 was an example of the Beaver map.  However, it was not the more common English edition, but the very rare Dublin piracy, issued by George Grierson, circa 1735.  Although recorded in the standard literature (for example, Cumming The Southeast In Early Maps), I have never seen an example for sale, nor do I recall having heard of one for sale.  Cumming, 158F, records only three separate examples, collected by Henry Stevens as part of his work on Moll's World Described.  The estimate of $2,000-3,000 was always going to be bettered, but a final price of $6,900 made it one of the bargains of the day.

The activities of the United Brethren were described in Loskiel's Geschichte der Mission Der Evangelisten Brüder Unter Den Indianern In Nordamkerika (Barby and Lepizig, 1789.  This, the First Edition (lot 300), was issued without a map, but the English edition of 1794, History Of The Mission Of The United Brethren Among The Indians In North America... Printed For The Brethren's Society For The Furthering Of The Gospel, contained a map of 'Part of the United States of America'.  The German edition was estimated at $700-800, selling for $575.  The English Edition, lot 315, on a similar estimate, sold for $1035.

The settlement period for the English colonies was represented by Lot 96, William Wood's New England Prospect ..., the second edition of 1635, with a woodcut map, 'The South Part Of New-England'.  While cruder in execution, the map highlights the settlements established in the Boston area since the publication of Smith's map.  Another "mwba", the volume sold for $51,750, against an estimate of $10,000-15,000.


Lot 111, William Hubbard's The Present State Of New-England: Being A Narrative Of The Troubles With The Indians ..., (London, 1677), is famed for the map of New England, attributed to John Foster, who printed the more desirable, and rarer, American edition, from which the English edition derived.  The American map, the first map published within the boundaries of the modern United States, marks the 'White Hills', while the English version shows the 'Wnie Hills' (generally rendered as 'Wine Hills').  The book sold for $40,250 (estimate $30,000-$40,000).

Lot 114 was Richard Blome's The Present State Of His Majesties Isles And Territories In America ..., published in London in 1687.  Although described by the cataloguer as the First Edition (with this title, it is), the book is actually an expanded version of Blome's History Of Jamaica ... (London, 1672), which covered the same topics but in less detail, and inserting six new maps acquired from Robert Morden to complement his map of Jamaica.  Amongst the additional text is a promotional text for Pennsylvania, constructed around a letter by William Penn, and John Poyntz's text to promote emigration to Tobago.  An interesting and scarce book, here apparently complete, it sold for $6,325 (estimate $2,500-3,500).


The Swedish settlements along the Delaware were described in Thomas Campanius' Kort Beskrifning Om Provincien Nya Swerigo, published in Stockholm in 1702. Lot 125.  Among the four engraved maps are of 'Nova Suecia', while one of the 2 engraved plates shows Penn meeting a group of Indians.  Estimated at $5,000-7,000, it sold for $8,050.

Another interesting group of items, again spread through the catalogue, related to the commencement and events of the French and Indian War (1755-1763).   The boundary disputes that lay at the heart of the problems with Britain and France were discussed in The Memorials Of The English And French Commissiaries Concerning The Limits Of Nova Scotia Or Acadia (London, 1755), illustrated with Thomas Jefferys' important map of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.  Offered as lot 155, it was estimated at 5,000-7,000, before selling for $10,350.

Territorial disputes over the land to the west of the Mississippi, and abuses inflicted by the European settlers on the Indians, formed the basis of State Of The British And French Colonies In North America', (London, 1755), illustrated with 'A Plan Of Kennebek & Sagadahok Rivers ...' by Thomas Johnston (lot 155a).  Estimated at $3,000-5,000, it sold for $12,650.

Perhaps the most blatant piece of cartographic propaganda was issued, perhaps not surprisingly, by the 'Society of Anti-Gallicans'.  The map, entitled 'A New And Accurate Map Of The English Empire in America: Representing Their Rightful Claim As Confirm'd By Charters... Likewise The Encroachments Of The French, With The Several Forts They Have Unjustly Erected Therein ...', was published in London in 1755 (lot 270). This example was complete with two additional side panels of inset plans or charts, and in bright original hand colouring, but with the publisher's imprint outside the lower border removed.  However, this example, uniquely ?, came in the original slip-case, with Robert Sayer's printed label.  A nice example certainly, and the estimate seemed a little low, at $6,000-8,000.  A total of $34,500, however, is astonishing, although evidently two would-be buyers saw merit in it to that sort of level. 


Increasing tension was recorded by George Washington in The Journal Of George Washington, Sent By The Hon. Robert Dinwiddie ... To The Commandant Of The French Forces On The Ohio' (London, 1754).  This English edition (lot 261) was the first to contain a map - 'A Map Of The Western Parts Of The Colony Of Virginia As Far As The Mississippi', centred on the course of the Ohio.  Estimated at $25,000-35,000, it sold for $57,500.

Another item emphasising the importance of the Ohio Valley was the first printing of Lewis Evans' Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical and Mechanical Essays, with Evans' 'General Map of The British Middle Colonies', Lot 267.  The map, one of the most important of the colonial period, always attracts attention.  Although a married pair, (acquired from different sources), which was rather skirted around in the main text, the estimate of $20,000-30,000 was low, and the final purchase price was $112,500.

Reflecting the French point of view, and objectives was lot 159, l'Abbé Delaville's État présent de la Pensilvanie, (Paris, 1756), which portrayed Pennsylvania as an easy target for French arms after General Bradock's defeat, and contained a map of that colony to show its position in relation to the French settlements.  The book sold for $1,840 (estimate $800-1,200).

A contemporary French retrospective view of the war was supplied by François Pouchot, in his Memoires Sur La Derniere Guerre De L'Amerique Septentrionale, (Yverson, 1781) offered as lot 199, and described by Sotheby's as "the prime contemporary French account of the French and Indian War".  The set contained three maps, plans of Fort Niagara and Fort Levis, and a map of the boundary between the English and French Possessions, the latter badly torn.  In view of the problems with the maps, the estimate of $7,000-9,000 seemed high, and the item sold for $5,750.

By contrast, there seemed little cartographic covering the Revolutionary War.  Lot 184 was a nice looking example of John Montresor's 'Map Of The Province Of New York ' (London, 1775) selling for $9,200 (estimate $2,000-3,000), while lot 187, was Louis Brion de la Tour's map of New England 'Carte Du Théatre De La Guerre Entre Les Anglais Et Les Américains ...', published in 1777, which sold for $5,175 (estimate $1,000-2,000).

The principal example was Robert Sayer and John Bennett's The American Military Pocket Atlas, the so-called 'Holster Atlas', containing six maps, including a series of three of the Northern, Middle and Southern Colonies, Lot 185.  Despite the title, only Brassier's map of Lake Champlain was of a scale useful in war conditions which, Sotheby's suggested, was the reason this example retained its crisp, original condition

Of similar date was Lot 289,  Thomas Hutchins' A Topographical Description Of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, And North Carolina, (London, 1778), accompanied by his four-sheet map '... The Western Parts Of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, And North Carolina ...', definitely a "mwba" item, described by Sotheby's as "by far the most accurate map of the west printed to that time ...".  Estimated at $18,000-25,000, the lot sold for $43,125.

Another interesting group related to early American mapping of the United States, and the wider world, starting with lot 203, Jedidiah Morse's The American Geography, (Elizabethtown, 1789), with two maps: Virginia and the Southern States, and the Middle and Northern States, which sold for $4,312 (estimate $1,000-2,000).

Lot 209 contained two examples of the First Edition of  the First American Atlas published in America, Matthew Carey's folio American Atlas (Philadelphia, 1795).  The first was complete except for the title; the second had the title, but only eight (six ?) of the maps called for. Estimated at $8,000-12,000, the lot fetched $28,750.  Lot 214 was Carey's General Atlas ..., the First Edition of the First [World] Atlas published in America, containing 44 of 45 maps (lacking the general map of the United States), which sold for $14,950 (estimate $8,000-12,000).

Lot 212 was the First Gazetteer of the United States - Joseph Scott's The United States Gazetteer, (Philadelphia, 1795), a 12mo volume containing 19 maps, which fetched $4,6000 (estimate $2,000-4,000)

John Reid's America Atlas, (New York, 1796) the second American Atlas, was offered as lot 215. A folio volume with 20 maps, plus the additional plan of Washington found only in some example, the atlas fetched $13,800 (estimate $12,000-18,000).

From the early nineteenth century I will mention only two lots, no.227, the John Melish Military And Topographical Atlas Of The United States (Philadelphia, 1813), and lot 228, Melish's Statistical Account Of The United States (Philadelphia, 1813).  The former, an octavo volume contained 5 engraved maps and 3 engraved plans by H.S. Tanner, relating to the War of 1812.  Estimated at $4,000-6,000, the lot sold for $12,650. The later was the very rare First Edition, and contained a fine general map of the United States by Tanner, recorded by American Imprints in only one example.  The lot sold for $13,800 on an estimate of  $2,000-4,000.


Of the separate maps offered, the nicest was a bound example of Henry Popple's 'A Map Of The British Empire In America In America', published in London in 1733, Lot 142.  "The FIRST LARGE SCALE PRINTED MAP OF NORTH AMERICA (Sotheby's) and this example was described as "A SUPERLATIVE COPY", with the sheets in bright original colour, the first such to appear at auction in the last twenty-five years, according to Sotheby's.  Against an estimate of $35,000-50,000, the item sold for $112,000, a tremendous price but, in the long term I'm sure, a wise purchase.

This seems quite the appropriate place to end a review of a quite exceptional collection, and a quite exceptional series of results.