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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Westporter Bids for Most Expensive Rare Map of America

By James Lomuscio

UPDATE For Westport resident Robert Augustyn, today was the rare map collector’s dream and the one that got away—the first known map of the United States printed in America.WestportNow.com Image
The most expensive map printed in America. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Courtesy of Christie’s

It also became the most expensive American map—as well as the most expensive map ever sold at auction—after it was hammered down this morning at a Christie’s auction in Manhattan for $1.8 million by a phone bid, the final price tag $2,098,500 including commissions. 

In the heat of bidding, Augustyn, a partner at the New York City-based rare map and book dealer, Martayan Lan, came close, topping out at the $1.5 million his well-heeled, unidentified client authorized him to bid for the 1784 map. Christie’s had estimated it to fetch between $500,000 and $700,000.

“This is a unique rarity, and I wasn’t surprised at the bidding,” he added.

Now Augustyn says he dreams about the day “the map that any map dealer would hope to handle” comes on the block again.

“We’ll be right there,” he says about the hand-colored, engraved artistry of Colonial map maker Abel Buell, a New Haven silversmith, type founder and engraver.

The mounted print is one of only seven known to be in existence. It came from the collection of the New Jersey Historical Society—a sale some speculated was forced by a need to raise money.

[This was subsequently confirmed by the historical society, cash-strapped because of state budget cuts. And it came under criticism by some in the museum field for selling this and other treasures.]

The other examples are at Yale, the Connecticut Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and libraries in London and Spain. Only three examples have changed hands in the past 120 years

“In terms of the United States and map making, it truly is an iconic map made in the United States and identifying the United States a year after the Treaty of Paris was signed,” said Augustyn.WestportNow.com Image
Robert Augustyn: Buell map is “a unique rarity.” Contributed photo

“So in a graphic sense, it actually ratifies the existence of the United States. It has the flag.”

Titled “A New and Correct Map of the United States of North America Layd Down from the Latest Observations and Best Authorities Agreeable to the Peace of 1783,”  the map consists of four joined sheets and measures 45 1/4 x 50 3/4 inches.

“Even though it’s a printed map, I’ve never seen one on the market, and I’ve been in this business more than 30 years,” said Augustyn, a 14-year Westport resident who has lectured at the Westport Historical Society and helped coordinate its current exhibit “Putting Westport On the Map” which includes several 18th century Connecticut maps.

Augustyn said he was also drawn to the fact that Buell was a Connecticut native.

The mapmaker, originally from Killingworth, has his own colorful history, gaining notoriety in 1764 at the age of 22 as a counterfeiter who was sentenced to a mandatory punishment of “imprisonment, cropping and branding.”

According to records, he was branded high on the forehead with a letter designating his crime, and the top of his ear was “cropped,” cut off and later reattached.

Though Augustyn missed out on the ultimate map, his company boasts a museum collection including a 1507 German world map selling for $275,000 and an eight-volume atlas with 500 maps that had been published in Amsterdam in 1650. The price: $1.2 million.

Why such a passion for cartography, something Augustyn says he has had “all my life?”

“It’s a way of mastering the world, mastering your environment,” he said. “It puts you more in command of space.”

UPDATE The Washington Post reported on Jan. 30, 2011, that the map was purchased by Washington philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, who is lending it to the Library of Congress.

The map has been a missing link in the library’s vast collection of maps, it said.

Rubenstein, the co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, was attracted to the map’s historic pedigree, the Post reported.

“This is the first map copyrighted, the first one to have the American flag and the first one made after the American Revolution. And it was the first one printed in the U.S.,” Rubenstein said.

The Post disclosed that the Library of Congress had been an unsuccessful bidder at the auction while at the same time reaching out to Rubenstein to help purchase the map.

Part of the agreement, Rubenstein said, is “they will put it on display for at least five years.”

The Library of Congress confirmed this and said it will go on display in the spring of 2011.

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Posted 12/04/10 at 02:41 AM  Permalink



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