At Bonhams | Exploration and Travel Literature with Americana

Posted in Art Market by Editor on October 18, 2022

From the press release for the upcoming auction:

Exploration and Travel Literature, Featuring Americana
Bonhams, New York, 25 October 2022

Manuscript map of the coast of California on cream paper.

Lot 12, Miguel de Costansó, Manuscript Map of California, Carta Reducida del Occeano Asiatico ó Mar del Sur…, produced in conjunction with the Portola and Serra expedition, 30 October 1770, 84 × 84 cm, on four conjoined sheets. Estimate: $600,000–800,000. More information is available here.

On October 25, Bonhams will present the most important 18th-century map of California as the highlight of its Exploration and Travel Literature, featuring Americana sale in New York. Estimated at $600,000–800,000, this original manuscript map of coastal California is signed by Miguel de Costansó (1741–1814), a Catalan cartographer, cosmographer, and engineer for the Portola Expedition. Dated Mexico, 30 October 1770, Costanso’s map is the first to depict San Francisco Bay and marks the beginning of the Spanish settlement in the region. The map exists in three versions: an early version in manuscript, not showing San Francisco Bay; this version in manuscript; and the 1771 printed map produced in Spain from this version.

A selection of Americana also features in the sale, including a subpoena for then President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), the first to be issued to a sitting president, requiring evidence in the case of treason against Aaron Burr. The document provides one of the earliest and most prominent tests of the concept now known as executive privilege. Burr, the third Vice-President of the United States and a Founding Father, was arrested and accused of High Treason for his role in a wild conspiracy to raise an army to separate the Louisiana Territory and Western states from U.S. rule in 1807. The subpoena gave rise to a host of issues, including executive privilege, equal rights under the law, and the independence of the executive branch, as well as the idea of preservation of state secrets. It is estimated at $200,000–300,000.

Additional Americana sale highlights include
• A previously unknown 1847 letter written and signed by American abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass (1817–1895), estimated at $50,000–70,000. Douglass had fled the United States in 1845 for fear of being taken up as a fugitive. Returning for the first time to America as a free man, Douglass here vividly describes his mistreatment during his return voyage aboard the Cambria, a pivotal experience in his life.
• An incredibly rare copy of the first federal copyright law signed in 1790 by Thomas Jefferson as the first United States Secretary of State, which laid the foundation of American copyright law, spurring 230 years of innovation and creating the framework for modern intellectual property law in the 21st century (est: $100,000–150,000).

The sale will also feature material related to exploration and travel literature including
• Thesaurus rei herbariae by Johann Wilhelm Weinmann (1683–1741), a German apothecary and botanist known his influential masterwork Phytanthoza iconographia (1737–45), which contained more than 1,000 hand-colored engravings of several thousand plants. Estimated at $40,000–60,000, this manuscript is a rare and valuable record of plants cultivated in the early 18th century, based on Weinmann’s own collection.
• Three rare photograph albums featuring the work of British photographer John Claude White (1853–1918), including the personal journal in photographs of his son-in-law Henry Hyslop during their expedition to the coronation of the King of Bhutan in 1907 (est: $30,000–40,000).


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