Thomas Jefferson’s set of Aeschylus tragedies leads Freeman’s Books and Manuscripts sale Feb. 6

Seven-volume collection of the works of Greek tragedian Aeschylus from the library of President Thomas Jefferson, estimated at $80,000-$120,000 at Freeman's.

PHILADELPHIA — A seven-volume set of Aeschylus tragedies specially made for President Thomas Jefferson is the highest-estimated lot at Freeman’s Books and Manuscripts sale scheduled for Tuesday, February 6. The complete sale catalog is now available for bidding at LiveAuctioneers.

Jefferson wasn’t just a book collector; he enjoyed creating unique volumes from original editions that suited his reading style. Beginning in March 1820, Jefferson tasked Philadelphia-based bookseller John Laval (1769-1839) to acquire different editions of Aeschylus for the express purpose of constructing this multilingual set. It features translations in Greek, French, English, and Latin, and has numerous notations throughout, presumably in Jefferson’s hand. The set also includes an ownership inscription from New York politician and attorney Gulian C. Verplanck on the front endpaper in the first volume, which reads: “Bought at the sale of the Library of Thomas Jefferson. Washington March 3d-1829. The volumes were compiled by himself and bound by his direction. This mode of binding together translations commentaries &c being a favorite with him. Many of the classics in the Library of Congress are examples of it. G.C.V.” The set carries an estimate of $80,000-$120,000.

John Hills was one of the foremost cartographers of the American Revolution and one of the leading mapmakers of the United States’ first capital, Philadelphia, following independence. He served in the British Army as a cartographer during the Revolutionary War, but resigned in 1784 and remained in America. In 1796, with the support of Philadelphia mayor Matthew Clark, Hills completed this map, which has come to be considered ‘the most important survey of the city of the Post-Revolutionary generation’ and which is, according to the Stanford Libraries, “today a landmark of early American urban cartography.” Notably, this map was part of the Martin P. Snyder collection, the famed Philadelphia historian. Only one other example of this map has appeared at auction since 1990. It is estimated at $12,000-$18,000.

Nineteenth-century monographs with color plates of animals and birds remain a strong category among collectors, having been pursued and preserved for more than a century. Color plates, or color images, were extremely novel in the early to mid-19th century, and acquiring a book that featured them was an expensive endeavor. The best surviving examples come from ornithologists such as John Gould, an English scientist and author who famously identified the birds that would become known as Darwin’s finches (Charles Darwin would cite Gould’s work in his seminal book On the Origin of Species)A Monograph of the Odontophorinae, or Partridges of America is Gould’s fourth work and was published between 1844 and 1850. This example is a “handsome copy” according to Freeman’s, and has an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.