Auctions | Spotlight on Middle East, circa 1800

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A first octavo edition of Audubon's "The Birds of America" is expected to sell for $60,000 to $80,000 Thursday at Freeman's.

Freeman's sale Thursday of fine books and ephemera concentrates on what we might once have called a faraway place, but which now has become all too pertinent: the Middle East. Several items reflect how enigmatic that area has been.

One of the top lots among the more than 500 to be sold, beginning at 10 a.m. at the gallery at 1808 Chestnut St., is a 22-volume summary of the observations and research done in Egypt during Napoleon's expedition there. Expected sale price is $40,000 to $70,000, according to presale estimates.

The summaries were prepared by the "savants" whom Napoleon brought with him to conduct the first "really thoroughgoing scientific examination of Egypt from ancient times to its flora and fauna," said David Bloom, who cataloged the sale along with Joe Huenke this week.

While parts of Egyptian history are vivid, notably the pharaonic dynasties and the Hellenic and Coptic periods, other periods were little studied by Europe and the West; and the ignorance seems to have been mutual. "There were a few 18th-century travel books about Egypt," Bloom said, "but they were mostly hit or miss."

An 18-by-13-inch broadside printed in Alexandria on Sept. 1, 1798, is expected to sell for $5,000 to $8,000. Even though printing in Europe was more than 300 years old by then, there was none in Egypt, even in Ottoman times, Bloom noted, until the French came in 1798, bringing with them a printing press.

An auction highlight devoted to Middle Eastern history is a three-volume description of the Ottoman Empire, done in Paris between 1787 and 1820 by Ignace de Mouradja d'Ohsson. It is expected to sell for $15,000 to $25,000, valued as much for its beauty as for its historical significance.

The historical and geographical works in the sale also explore other little-known regions, including a first-edition four-volume illustrated study of the Spanish explorations of the New World that was published around 1600 in Madrid. Described in the catalog as the "best early general synthesis of the Spanish discovery, conquest and settlement of North and South America between 1492 and 1554," it is expected to sell for $8,000 to $12,000.

The auction also features a number of works from the golden age of color-plate books. Many were printed in England during the Regency period when, Bloom noted, such works still had to be done in aquatints instead of later, cheaper illustration techniques. But there were "wealthy clientele and connoisseurs."

Bloom noted a first-edition copy of Humphry Repton's Designs for the Pavilion at Brighton, printed in 1808 in London and expected to sell for $6,000 to $10,000, although a seven-volume edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America, its first octavo edition, is expected to sell for far more: $60,000 to $80,000.

Previews are from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. For further information call 215-563-9275. To see the online catalog, go to www.freemansauction.com.

Sales in the city. Two other sales are taking place this weekend.

At 11 a.m. today Kamelot Auctions will begin a two-day, 800-lot, generally affordable sale of statuary and other artwork, furnishings and appointments at its gallery in the complex at 4700 Wissahickon Ave. Today's session will begin with 40 bronzes, most of which will sell in the $1,000 range, although one, Nestor the Chronicler by Russian sculptor Mark Matveevich Antokolsky, is expected to sell for $20,000 to $30,000, according to presale estimates at Kamelot's Web site, Kamelotauctions.com. The sale also will be conducted online.

Tomorrow's session, also beginning at 11, will feature more than 200 lots of furniture, most of it Continental, and lighting. Most of the furniture, including four dozen pieces of Jansen, will sell in the low-four-figure range, although a pair of French walnut carved cabinets dating to 1880 should sell for $16,000 to $24,000. An early Roycroft magazine pedestal should bring $9,000 to $12,000.

Preview is from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. For further information call 215-438-6990.

At 10 a.m. tomorrow at its gallery at 2501 E. Ontario St., Barry S. Slosberg Inc. will offer more than two dozen vintage automobiles, as well as a number of restoration projects. Among the cars ready to roll are a 1962 Cadillac convertible featured in the movies GoodFellas and Dreamgirls that Slosberg associate Brian Lyons expects to sell for $30,000, and a 1961 Cadillac sedan that "purrs like a kitten" and should sell for $20,000 to $25,000.

Preview is from 9 a.m. to sale time. For further information call 215-425-7030.


Contact David Iams at daiams@comcast.net.