Published: February 9, 2010
“This is the most exciting thing I have ever handled,” remarked Jim Julia as a rare and historically important map was about to cross the auction block during Julia’s Antiques and Fine Art auction this past week, February 4‵. And it was not just any old map that Julia was referring to; it was what he termed the “most important map in American history,” George Washington’s personal copy of the Battle of Yorktown.
Executed by Jean Baptiste Gouvion on or about October 29, 1781, it was prepared ten days after this victorious and pivotal battle that ultimately resulted in the surrender of the British forces.
A larger copy of the map is in the collection of the National Archives and was, until now, believed to have been Washington’s personal copy. The discovery of the smaller version now indicates that that the larger example was most likely created for the Continental Congress and that this smaller map was actually Washington’s personal copy. It had descended through the family of Tobias Lear, Washington’s aide-de-camp, who handled all of Washington’s papers after his death.
With Julia’s staff manning 13 phones in the gallery, and a host of other active cellphones used by private agents representing clients, Julia opened the lot for bidding at $25,000. A flurry of hands were in the air as everyone tried to get in on the action. As the price escalated, so did the bid increments and one by one many in the crowd dropped from the action.
There were still several involved at $400,000, including one phone bidder that attempted to trump the others by jumping the bid far beyond the requested advance, a ploy he used on several occasions.
At $650,000 the competition narrowed to a single telephone bidder and one gentleman covertly standing in the rear of the gallery, his face partially obscured by his bid card and his cellphone glued to his ear. The phone bidder ignored the opportunity to hit the lot at $675,000 and instead jumped the bid to $700,000. Unfazed the gentleman in the rear of the room never moved a muscle, keeping his bid in plain sight of the auctioneer.
And so it went until Julia asked the telephone bidder for $1 million, which came after a brief pause, thus ending the competition.
The final price, including premium, $1,150,000, has established a host of records. It is a record price paid for any antique sold at auction in the state of Maine, a record price for any item sold by James Julia, a record price paid at auction for an American map and believed to be a record price paid for a map worldwide. The buyer was characterized as a “private individual with close ties with a museum.”
A complete review of the auction will appear in a future issue. ⁄SS
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