September Sale Showcases Icons of Progress
From Minot to Marx, Bonhams' fall sales include items marking significant shifts in science, tech, and politics
By Barbara Basbanes Richter & Emily ByrdBarbara Basbanes Richter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Fine Books & Collections based in New York. Emily Byrd lives in North Carolina and is the editorial cordinator of special publications at Journalistic, Inc.
This September marks the return of Bonhams’ History of Science and Technology sale in September, with material that captures critical moments of technological development spanning three hundred years in an event at the center of what the head of Bonhams' U.S. book department calls the strongest and most diverse auction season she’s seen in years.
For those who remember Bonhams’ record-breaking sale of an original Apple 1 computer just last year, the mere presence of yet another Apple 1—complete with a custom wooden box and an integrated keyboard—is building high expectations for the September auction. Other offerings represent additional scientific milestones, including an eighteenth-century mechanical model of the solar system know as an orrery carved from mahogany and engraved brass ($250,000-$350,000) and George Minot’s 1934 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his pioneering work on pernicious anemia ($200,000-$300,000). In addition, the collection features a signed letter by Charles Darwin with a declaration denouncing his belief in the Bible, which pre-sale estimates value at $70,000-$90,000. The sale will also touch on darker elements in the history of scientific and technological advancements, such as a fully operational, three-rotor Enigma 1 machine ($160,000-$180,000), which is believed to be one of the first Heeres Enigma machines delivered to the German military as it built up its forces in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
Offering a less topical but equally impressive selection, the collection of Barbara Land will also be on the block for buyers interested in items such as a first edition of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital ($25,000-$35,000) or Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Several natural history and travel items figure prominently in the collection too, including John James Audubon’s Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds in octavo ($30,000-$50,000), and a set of Captain Cook’s Voyages ($15,000-$20,000).
Land is a collector from the Bay Area and a longtime Book Club of California librarian. She has spent a lifetime surrounded by books. Armed with her masters of library science from Texas Women’s University, Land was a librarian at the 52nd Street branch of the New York Public Library. Later, she returned to her native San Francisco and became a rare book cataloguer and consultant. She single-handedly cataloged the extensive Sutro Collection of manuscripts in the California State Library system, and spent many hours volunteering her services as a member of the Roxburghe Club, the Colophon Club, and the Hand Bookbinders of California. Land’s collection also includes works acquired from her father, renowned collector, Lewis Land.
The September sale also boasts strong European and American offerings, featuring a compilation album of 137 hand-colored copper-engraved Geschichtsblättern from 1561-1582 ($30,000-$50,000); Franz Kafka's signed Czechoslovak passport ($10,000-$15,000); a superb copy of Alexander Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War ($120,000-$180,000), and a six-page autograph document signed by Father Junipero Serra regarding California mission regulations ($60,000-$90,000).
With items encompassing science, technology, literature, politics, and a variety of other eclectic subjects, Bonhams is starting the fall auction season with a strong showing.