PBA Galleries holds record sale of Chinese maps and history
As China's economic growth has increased, so, too, has interest in important historical works on the Middle Kingdom. This was 'hammered' home at PBA Galleries' August 11 auction of a small but significant group of rare books on China from the private collection of Margaret Gee.

It was part of a greater sale of Americana, travel & exploration, and maps. Record prices were achieved, with bids coming in from both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, by phone and through LiveAuctioneers, as well as from attendees at the auction.

The first of the major works in the Gee collection to hit the block was the Novus Atlas Sinensis of Martinus Martini, circa 1655, with 17 double-page engraved maps with hand colouring in outline, the first European atlas of China, issued as the sixth volume in Joannes Blaeu's Novus Atlas.

Thelot opened at $20,000, the midpoint of the $15,000-$25,000 estimate. That was not enough, however, and the superb atlas, in a contemporary brown Moroccan leather binding, was to sell to an internet bidder from China for $27,000.

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Novus Atlas Joannes Blaeu
Joannes Blaeu's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Novus Atlas

Next up was Jean-Baptiste Du Halde's two-volume Description of the Empire of China and Chinese-Tartary, 1738-41, with 64 copper-engraved maps, plans and plates, most folding.

Estimated at $8,000-$12,000, it started in the room at $11,000, the result of multiple absentee bids. Competing against both floor and internet, a telephone bidder from England captured the lovely copy at $15,600.

Another highlight of the sale, Isidore Helman's very rare 1788 Faits Memorabiles des Empereurs de la Chine, containeda series of 24 folio copper-engraved plates in an uncoloured state.

This copy was without the title page, dedication leaf or 24 text pages, hence the rather conservative estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

Helman's engraving of Chinese Emperor's deeds
Helman's engraving of Chinese Emperor's deeds

The lot opened above the high estimate at $5,500, but it had much farther to go, selling to an international phone bidder for $24,000.

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 re-backing, 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 ultimately prevailed at $42,000, far above the pre-sale estimate of $12,000-$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 $5,000-$8,000, it was finally retired at $13,200.

There were other, less expensive works relating to China in the auction, but all attracted competition, with most selling within or above the estimate ranges. Collectors interested in maps should take a look at our list of top five maps, David Rumsey's map collection or our guide to antique map-printing.


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