Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Washington/Lear Items at Auction

An interesting auction in Maine yesterday at James D. Julia auction house, where some Washington-related items which passed down through the family of Tobias Lear were up for sale. The one that's attracted the most attention is a map of the Yorktown battlefield, which sold for a surprising $1.15 million. This is being called "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.'"

As Tony Campbell pointed this this morning in a MapHist email, it is certainly not the record for a map (both Ricci and Waldseemüller, among others, were significantly higher).

Of more immediate interest to me was another item, part of Lot 2135, a list of books titled "Catalogue of Books received from Washington." It's important to note that this does not mean George Washington, though (several of the first few books on the list weren't published until after his death, for starters). Two of the lots contain early notes that indicate they came to Lear from George Washington (including a set of encyclopedias we know Washington bought and planned to give as a gift). Other titles, however, are stated to have come from Washington's library without such notes and without appearing in the inventory of that collection taken at Washington's death. None contain Washington's signature, as many of his books did. Their appearance in the "Catalogue of Books received from Washington," should not be a sign that they belonged to Washington himself. I hope the buyers of those (some of which went for fairly hefty sums) knew what they were getting.

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