The Age of Exploration
Bonhams’ sale will highlight the history of Antarctic expeditions By Peggy Carouthers Peggy Carouthers lives in California and is the custom content manager at Journalistic Inc.
On September 25, Bonhams will hold a travel and exploration sale that will include a significant collection of printed and manuscript Americana, as well as the Fitzsimmons Antarctica Collection, which contains items from the Europeans, Americans, and Australians that made the trek to Antarctica.
“At the time of these expeditions, Antarctica was the final frontier and still very much a great mystery,” said Ian Ehling, director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams. “Fitzsimmons was a very meticulous collector, and the collection covers everything from the first voyage across the Antarctic Circle by James Cook to Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross the region from sea to sea and everything in between.”
One item up for auction is Aurora Australis, which Ehling called “the crown jewel of any Antarctic collection.” It was the first book printed in Antarctica and was overseen by Shackleton on his expedition between 1908 and 1909 (est. $70,000-100,000). “He brought a printing press to entertain his crew in the dark winter months when they were stuck waiting for the sun to raise again,” Ehling said. “He encouraged participants in the expedition to write accounts, which he printed and had illustrated, and it became the first book ever published there.”
Though it is unclear how many copies were actually printed, Shackleton had planned to produce 100 copies. In addition to its rarity, the binding also adds interest to this item. When producing the books, Shackleton used the boards from the crates of supplies he took to Antarctica for the binding. This copy included stenciled lettering spelling out “Oatmeal” inside the front cover.
Also included in the sale is a copy of The South Polar Times, a publication that was also overseen by Shackleton and published in London in 1907-1914 (est. $20,000-30,000). This copy is of particular interest because two of the volumes have the bookplates of Michael Barne, who was appointed to second lieutenant to Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition from 1901-1904.
“To have a book that was owned by an officer from the polar expedition and for the book to have an association with Scott and Shackleton is incredibly rare,” Ehling said.
Following the Fitzsimmons Collection, the sale continues with a fine selection of Exploration and Americana, beginning with a wide-margin copy of the most important printed atlas available, the 1513 Ptolemy with the maps of Waldseemuller, annotated in two contemporary humanist hands; as well as the Sir Thomas Phillips’ manuscript copy of Don Alonso de Arellano’s narrative describing the first east-west crossing of the Pacific, the discovery of the famed Manila Route. The Americana is rife with manuscripts, broadsides and books rarely seen in the market, highlighted by a group from a private New Hampshire estate, including the Proceedings of the court-martial of Major General Charles Lee, which Streeter called “one of the most dramatic narratives of rare Americana.” The edition was only 100 copies for Congress, this one for George Frost of the Continental Congress, and it is bound with two other rare court-martial proceedings, those of Arthur St. Clair and Philip Schuyler. Also included are two very rare and important 1754 pamphlets against the Massachusetts excise tax (on liquor) with the ownership inscription of Nathaniel Sparhawk, whose bootlegging helped necessitate the act in the first place, according to Ehling.
The sale will be on preview in Bonhams New York galleries from Friday, September 21st through Monday, September 24th, with the sale taking place September 25th.