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Rare Hawaiiana collection earns $803,943 at auction


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POSTED: Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Hawaiiana collector who auctioned off his library in New York this week earned enough to buy a whole new library. The rare books, maps and manuscripts earned $803,943, with 199 of 260 lots finding buyers.

The focus of the anonymous collection was early exploration in Hawaii and the Pacific, and enthusiasts from around the world bid on items at Bonhams New York, in person or by telephone.

Matthew Haley, a New York-based specialist instrumental in appraising the sale, said: “;We were delighted to get these world record prices, which show that our market for rare books is stronger than ever. Hawaiian books are a hot topic.”; Early estimates indicated that the collection might raise $500,000.

One energetic bidder, identified only as “;Kauai Boy,”; bid high for items relating to Hawaiian royalty and sovereign law. According to officials with Bonhams, Kauai Boy's goal was “;repatriating these historical items to the islands.”;

The very rare congressional copy of naval officer Charles Wilkes' record of a 1838-1842 South Seas expedition turned out to be an upset item. Only 100 copies were printed of America's first government-financed scientific expedition, and this volume sold for $115,900, according to Bonhams—a world record.

Less famous, but also exceeding estimates, was a three-volume first edition of “;An Album of the Weapons, Tools, Ornaments, Articles of Dress etc. of the Natives of the Pacific Islands (1890-1898).”; Only 175 were printed. The pre-auction estimate was $9,000; it sold for $39,650.

A lot that included a cannonball supposedly fired by Captain Cook's crew at unruly Hawaiians earned more than $7,000.

Other record sales include:

» A first-edition official account of Cook's last voyage, estimated at $20,000, earned $30,500. American crewman John Ledyard's memoir of the same voyage sold for $24,400.

» A first-edition of “;Aves Hawaiienses: The Birds of the Sandwich Islands,”; estimated at $7,000, sold for $20,740.

» A limited-edition copy of “;Translation of the Constitution and Laws of the Hawaiian Islands, Established in the Reign of Kamehameha III (1842)”; estimated at $9,000, earned $17,080.

» The pamphlet “;Constitution and By-Laws of the Hale Naua or Temple of Science”;—signed and inscribed by Queen Liliuokalani—was estimated at $5,000 but brought in $15,860.

There was a burst of spirited bidding on a batch of original Hawaiian mele inoa, or name chants, created for Kalakaua's Jubilee Birthday in 1886.

“;It was the cause of nothing short of a bidding war,”; noted Bonhams' Staci Smith. “;When the hammer fell, the lot brought in an astounding seven times more than its conservative estimate of $2,000, fetching $14,640.”;