Pre-Great Fire Chicago map smashes estimate

A hand-coloured map of Chicago dating to before the Great Fire of 1871 smashed its estimate at auction yesterday.

It made $197,000, an increase of 556% on its $30,000 valuation, in Leslie Hindman’s Fine Books and Manuscripts sale.

Chicago map fire

Only four examples of James T Palmatry's map are known to exist

Up to the events of 1871, much of downtown Chicago was constructed almost entirely from wood – including buildings and boardwalks.

The roof tiles were coated with tar. To cap it all, it had been an unusually hot, dry summer.

The fire started in a barn on DeKoven Street on October 8 and ripped through the surrounding streets. It took two days to extinguish.  

James T Palmatry drew up this map in 1857, 14 years before the fire. It shows the layout of the city soon after the arrival of the Illinois Central Railroad.

Only four of these maps are known to exist.

The others are all in museum collections, which explains the extraordinary result.

Meanwhile, a plate from John James Audubon’s Birds of America (1838) achieved $9,375.

The exceptional aquatint measures three feet across and depicts the Carolina Turtle Dove (Plate XVII).

Audubon began his celebrated project in 1820, funding his work via subscription. It’s one of the most valuable books of all time. Complete copies have sold for as much as $11.5m.

You can check out our amazing selection of books and manuscripts in our online store, click here to take a look.

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