Napoleon: Amazing Find

A Great Find by Anson Brown

People often ask me if my job is like the Antiques Roadshow. Mostly not, as 98% of the time, I give people bad news on how their treasures are basically worthless, low value or at least not worth thousands of dollars. It’s a common complaint I’ve heard from people in the industry: “People are watching Roadshow, Pawn Stars and American Pickers and they all think they have something.” Today was one of these exceptions where it was actually like Antiques Roadshow!

My cataloger had set up an appointment for me to meet with an elderly couple who had a 22 volume “nice set” of the Life of Napoleon. My cataloger figured it would be worth about $2K based on the consignor’s description of the work in an email. When I sat down with the couple, I asked them why they brought the book to us. They told me that a book dealer had quoted us it much lower and when the consignor was disappointed, the dealer recommended Waverly. Therefore “since [we] really think [we] can get that much” they decided to give us a try.

I frequently trust my cataloger’s assessment, but I always like to double check his work and have him double check my work. This occasion was no different, especially because we were dealing with something thought to be worth thousands of dollars. As is my custom, I began with volume 1 in the set. This set had 3 volumes marked “1” so I decided to look in each for expedience sake rather than reconstruct the set in its proper order. On my third try, I found the true volume one, thumbed through the first few pages and stumbled on a tipped in personal letter in the hand of Napoleon Bonaparte as a brigadier general, c. 1794. Now for the truly amazing part: The couple had had the set decorating their living room for the past 38 years and never knew that they possessed an original letter penned by Napoleon himself! They were completely amazed. The last of these editions with the tipped in ALS (Autographed Letter Signed) sold in 1997 for $4250. These years later, I expect the set to bring much more.

This is not as unusual as one might believe. In the past I have sold similar works with tipped in letters including James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, Victor Hugo and several other noteworthy authors and historical figures. But these consignors knew exactly how special their items were. What makes this find so special is that it has evaded all knowledge of existence for at least 38 years until I found it for the world. The Napoleon will be in my rare book auction on March 1st, 2012, along with a complete set of Audubon’s Birds of America, 1st octavo edition, a George Washington signed document and many other books.

About Berkeley Brown
Anson Brown, co-founder and principal of Auction Exclusive, is an expert in rare books, prints, antique maps, historical manuscripts and autographs. He is also well versed in a variety of fine and decorative arts and antiques and has 7 years experience in the auction industry. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from George Mason University and and Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland.

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