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Travel, exploration, map making and natural history were the principal attractions of a Sotheby’s (25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) sale of May 14 that raised a little over £2m, including premiums, but though the cartography section included numerous important and potentially expensive works, not of all of them found buyers.

Among the disappointments were two Blaeu atlases, a Théâtre du Monde of 1643-45 in a presentation vellum binding and a 1640-54, Latin text version of that same atlas that were pitched at £70,000-90,000 apiece.

Sold at a low-estimate £75,000, however, was a 1676 Bassett & Chiswell edition of Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain… and Prospect of the most Famous Parts of the World, containing a total of 96 fully coloured maps.

London maps and views, seem to have been selling well of late and bid to £48,000 in the New Bond Street sale was a 1746 first in old boards of John Rocque’s Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster… This much-admired work comprises 24 engraved map sheets in all.

Fruitful benefits

Sold at what appear to be record sums of £5500 and £7000 in a Voyages section of the sale were two mid-17th century works by Walter Hamond that sing the praises of Madagascar.

Their author had been sent by the East India Company to assess the colonisation prospects of the island and while he was obviously impressed by Madagascar, its people and its potential, some of Hamond’s observations do tend towards the fanciful, said the cataloguer.

In the earlier of the two works, A Paradox, Prooving that Inhabitants… are the happiest people in the world… of 1640, he nevertheless presents a description of the island, its climate and indigenous people, while in Madagascar, the richest and most Fruitfull Island in the World of 1643 he extols the benefits the island could bring the company’s ships on passages to the Persian Gulf and the Far East.

Some 80 lots in the sale focused on the Near and Middle East.

One of the many photographic lots in that category topped the day’s bidding when Dutch Orientalist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje’s own specially bound set of his books and portfolios of photographs of Mecca sold at £170,000.

Printed on thick paper and bound in contemporary polished calf gilt or matching tan cloth portfolios, these four volumes of 1888-89 include images by the first Arab photographer of Mecca, Al-Sayyid abd al-Ghaffar.

Doubling the high estimate to sell at £80,000, a group of 25 photographs of Saudi Arabian interest dating from the 1930s included a number featuring Ibn Saud with his family, sword dancing and at his palace in Riyadh that were taken by the great English traveller and writer on Arabia, Harry St John Bridger Philby.

North American content included, at £55,000, a first-edition, second-issue example (1755) of the primary political treaty map of American history, John Mitchell’s Map of the British and French Dominions…

Among Chinese lots, an example of the famous ‘Blue Map’ of Qianren Huang was sold at a much higher than predicted £85,000.

Dated 1812, this is a rare woodblock map of the Chinese empire in the era of the Qing dynasty, printed on eight sheets that overall measure roughly 4ft 4in x 7ft 6in (1.32 x 2.32m) in total. It takes its name from its overall dark and light blue colouring of the map.

Singapore out on the map

Another cartographic lot that made much more than predicted was the earliest known survey of Singapore harbour, an engraved depiction that marks the first appearance of that name on any printed map or chart.

The work of Daniel Ross, who conducted a survey of Singapore harbour in February 1819, the map was drawn and engraved expressly for the Calcutta Journal and was first printed on the Calcutta Union Press. It sold at £28,000.

Among the 30 natural history lots that opened the sale, a rare 1880 photobook of New Zealand ferns that was previewed and illustrated in ATG No 2390 failed to sell, but there were several successes.

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Used as the Sotheby's catalogue cover illustration, this was one of the avian subjects in the collection of coloured plates on a Chinese theme produced by Gabriel Huquier after originals by JB Oudry and others. It sold for £150,000.

A high-estimate bid of £150,000 secured a large folio collection of 60 hand-coloured engraved plates of Chinese birds, flowers, vases and other objects.

Dating from c.1745 and bound in one large folio, the plates feature the work of Jean Baptiste Oudry and other artists and were produced by Gabriel Huqier (1695-1772), a leading French engraver and print-seller.

Another success, at £20,000, was one of just 25 copies of Aylmer Bourke Lambert’s Description of the Genus Pinus of 1803-07 that were hand-coloured by William Hooker.

Of the 64 lithographed and engraved plates after Ferdinand Bauer that illustrate the two large folio volumes, all but six are coloured.