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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rare old Hawaii items up for bid

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

This 1884 report from a board compiling Hawaiian chiefs' genealogy is expected to sell for at least $1,000.

Photo courtesy of Bonhams of New York

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Tomorrow morning in New York, a library of rare Hawai'i manuscripts and documents will be auctioned piece by piece.

Included are an early issue of Ke Kumu Hawaii, the first newspaper printed in Honolulu; a copy of Lili'uokalani's translation of the Kumulipo genealogy chant; and a 19th-century Hawai'i flag hand-painted on silk. There are 260 items in the collection of Hawaiian and South Pacific historical documents, all from a private library owned by a collector who lived on the Big Island, though his name is being kept private.

Don't worry. Bishop Museum owns many of these documents already.

Still, the copies on auction at Bonhams New York are considered rare and valuable.

One of the big-ticket items is a journal of Captain Cook's last voyage written by John Ledyard, an American corporal on Cook's ship Resolution. As described in the Bonhams catalog, "Annotated with numerous corrections and made even more desirable as it was originally the property of Ledyard's first cousin and is most likely a presentation copy to a good friend, the lot is estimated at $25,000-35,000."

A set of four paintings by John Cleveley called "Views in the South Seas" is valued at $15,000-$20,000. The paintings were composed from sketches made by the artist's brother, James Cleveley, a carpenter aboard the Resolution.

There is also a copy of the first constitution of Hawai'i, dated 1841 and printed in the Hawaiian language, with an estimated value of of $5,000-$7,000.

Touted as the "most coveted" of the collection is a rare copy of Charles Wilkes' record of his 1838-1842 South Seas expedition. The record includes 64 engraved plates, nine double-page maps, and more than 250 illustrations. It is valued at $30,000-$50,000.

The least expensive items are around $250 to $300, things like illustrations of South Pacific scenes and copies of maps.

Many of the items are hand-written, like letters from sailors, ledgers or the records missionaries kept of families.

The collection isn't so much about Hawaiiana as it is about Pacific exploration. Bonhams' Staci Smith said: "The specialist handling the sale, Christina Geiger, explains that anything printed in Hawai'i or Polynesia in the 19th century is very attractive to collectors, as these things are relatively rare due to the fact that the print runs would have been small, they are often small books or periodicals or fliers of an inherently ephemeral nature, and often made from lower-quality paper and subject to extremes of heat and humidity."

Online bidding closes 24 hours before the auction, but phone and fax bids will be accepted up to the moment of the sale. Hawai'i bidders can call Bonhams' San Francisco office at 415-861-7500.

The entire catalog is online at www.bonhams.com/newyork.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.