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Book and Manuscripts Sale: Paper and Plastic

December 14th, 2012


The scarce first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence, very likely the second printing overall (preceded only by John Dunlap’s official Congressional broadside), sold for $722,500 (est. $300,000/400,000). It was within a bound full year’s run of the Pennsylvania Evening Post, published in Philadelphia.


This is the entire King James version of the Bible, produced on microfilm by NCR in 1964 and carried into space by the Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971. Measuring 1½" square, it is housed in a 22k gold monstrance. It sold along with a letter of certification and an affidavit for $56,250 (est. $50,000/70,000).


A first edition (bound in two volumes) of History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the Sources of the Missouri, thence across the Rocky Mountains and down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. Performed during the years 1804-5-6 sold to an Internet buyer for $218,500 (est. $100,000/150,000). It was cataloged as “an extraordinary copy, uncut, in the original printed boards.”


The prototype for IBM’s magnetic-striped financial transaction card sold for $23,750 (est. $10,000/15,000). It is a roughly 2.1" x 3.3" piece of cardboard with a ½" strip of magnetic tape attached.

Sotheby’s, New York City

Photos courtesy Sotheby’s

At Sotheby’s sale of fine books and manuscripts, including Americana, on December 14, 2012, in New York City, the department offered the usual paper but also a prototype for the now ubiquitous magnetic-striped plastic credit card. Carried around in the wallet of its developer, Jerome Svigals, since its conception in the late 1960’s, the card sold for $23,750 (including buyer’s premium). A second prototype for the same IBM “financial transaction card” is in the collection of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Another non-paper item, the entire King James version of the Bible, produced on microfilm by the National Cash Register Company and carried into space by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell in 1971, sold for $56,250 (est. $50,000/70,000). Measuring 1½" square, this microfilm is housed in a 22k gold monstrance, studded with jewels. It was sold along with a letter of certification and an affidavit. Mitchell brought 100 of these microfilm Bibles on the mission. This is one of only 12 dual-certified and complete copies identified by a serial number. For more information about the Lunar Bible project, see “The Story of the First Lunar Bible” by David Frohman on the Web site (www.spacerelics.com/Apollo).

An unknown number of the 100 Bibles Mitchell carried were later segmented into 50-page and two-page fragments. One of the 50-page fragments sold in the lot after the complete copy for $5625 (est. $5000/7000).

The most important paper item at the sale sold to dealer Seth Kaller of White Plains, New York, for $722,500. It was the scarce first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence, the second printing overall. It had been preceded only by John Dunlap’s official Congressional broadside. This copy of the July 6, 1776, issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Post had been bound together with nearly a full year’s run of the newspaper and several broadsides on the defense of Pennsylvania.

Bidding for the Post was lively, beginning in the salesroom at $275,000. Absentee bids covered the low estimate of $300,000 and the high of $400,000. Besides Kaller, there were at least two other room bidders, plus action on the telephones.

Kaller said that he has handled two other bound Post printings of the Declaration. The first is now part of the Gilder Lehrman collection, on deposit at the New-York Historical Society; the second is in the Albert H. Small Declaration of Independence collection at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. This third one he bought for stock “with a few clients in mind,” he said. Within days, one of them, a private collector, had bought it.

Kaller offered some surprising additional information about the item. While researching one of the six known copies of the first Massachusetts broadside of the Declaration (July 14-16, 1776), he made a discovery; it matched the style of the Post more closely than the Dunlap version. It turns out that the Post arrived in several places before the official Dunlap broadside. After a close comparison of the Dunlap and the Post, Kaller came to a startling conclusion. “It had been assumed that Jefferson was the one to provide the original manuscript and supervise printing at Dunlap’s,” he said. “But our evidence shows that Dunlap based his printing on a manuscript penned by John Adams, while the Post based its printing on a Jefferson manuscript.” He has laid out some of the evidence on his Web site (www.sethkaller.com) and promises to publish more next year.

“Another thing that makes this volume of newspapers special,” Kaller said, “is that it also includes the July second notice of independence. July fourth isn’t really our independence day; technically, it’s July second. Very, very few newspapers covered the July second resolution, and I believe the Post was the only same-day printing of it.”

Kaller didn’t buy anything else at the sale. “This was the one thing I cared about,” he said.

The $2,126,632 total for the sale as a whole was not one of Sotheby’s shining moments. By our calculations, about 43% of the 189 lots offered did not sell. These no-sales included a large archive of letters and drawings that cartoonist Charles Schulz (1922-2000) wrote to a girlfriend in 1970-71 and carried an estimate of $250,000/350,000. Apparently, bidders were not in the mood for love, at least not at that price. They also passed up two more (non-paper) items—an Olympic torch from 1948 and an Oscar for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

For more information, contact Sotheby’s via its Web site (www.sothebys.com).

Bernard Ratzer’s “Plan of the City of New York, in North America: Surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767” sold for $62,500 (est. $30,000/35,000). The engraved map (partially shown) on three joined sheets measures 48 3/8" x 36".


Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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