Published: September 13, 2011
The growing interest in important historical works on China’s Middle Kingdom was hammered home at the auction by PBA Galleries of a small but significant group of rare books on China from the private collection of Margaret Gee, conducted on August 11 in a sale of Americana, travel and exploration, maps and ephemera. Record prices were achieved, with bids coming in from both the eastern and western hemispheres over Internet and telephone, as well as attendees at the auction.
The first of the major works in the collection to hit the block was the Novus Atlas Sinensis of Martinus Martini, circa 1655, with 17 double-page engraved maps with hand coloring in outline, the first European atlas of China, issued as the sixth volume in Joannes Blaeu’s Novus Atlas . The lot opened at $20,000, the starting price driven by strong absentee bidding to midway in the $15/25,000 estimate. That was not enough, however, and the superb atlas, in a contemporary brown morocco binding, was to sell to an Internet bidder from China for $27,000.
Next up was Jean-Baptiste Du Halde’s two-volume Description of the Empire of China and Chinese-Tartary, 1738‴1 , with 64 copper-engraved maps, plans and plates, most folding. Estimated at $8/12,000, the start in the room was $11,000, the result of multiple absentee bids. Competing against both floor and Internet, a telephone bidder from England captured the copy at $15,600.
Following Jean-Baptiste Grosier’s General Description of China , 1788, which sold for $1,560 against a $700․1,000 estimate, was another highlight of the sale, Isidore Helman’s very rare Faits memorabiles des empereurs de la Chine , also published in 1788. A series of 24 folio copper-engraved plates, in uncolored state, this copy was without the title-page, dedication-leaf or 24 text pages; hence, the rather conservative estimate of $3/5,000. The lot opened above the high estimate at $5,500, but that was of no consequence, and the final price was $24,000, selling to a determined international phone bidder.
Soon to follow was the highlight of the auction, a striking set of John Ogilby’s translations of Jan Nieuhoff’s An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China , 1669, and Arnoldus Montanus’ Atlas Chinensis , 1671. With numerous copper-engraved plates and text illustrations, and uniformly bound in later full calf with modern rebacking, the two folio volumes were in exceptional condition, a fact not lost on the enthusiastic bidders. Vying against an Internet bidder, a customer in the room finally prevailed, but not before being forced to $42,000, far above the presale estimate of $12/18,000.
George Staunton’s An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China…, 1798, three volumes, including the folio atlas, saw similar success, but on a smaller scale. Estimated at $5/8,000, it was finally laid to rest at $13,200. There were other, less expensive works relating to China in the auction, but all engendered competition, with most selling within or above the estimate ranges.
All prices reported include a 20 percent buyer’s premium.
For more information, 415-989-2665, 866-999-7224 or www.pbagalleries.com .
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm