Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Works on Russian America and polar exploration from an impressive, 420-lot collection of books, maps and related material have provided a wealth of discoveries, covered on these pages and the ATG website.

Here, further rarities from that Martin Greene library, sold at Christie’s New York (25/20/12.5%) on December 7, dominate a survey of polar material offered at auction in recent times.

William Lauder was surgeon on the Queen Charlotte during a 1785-88 circumnavigation made by captains Dixon and Portlock that had as its principal focus the development of the fur trade in the Arctic regions.

An anonymous account of that Voyage Round the World… which appeared in London bookshops in 1789 is now recognised as Lauder’s work. In a period binding, Greene’s copy more than doubled the high estimate to sell for a record $70,000 (£52,240).

Sold for $105,000 (£78,360) was a 1790 first of Joseph Meares’ account of his 1788-89 voyage to the …North- West coast of America that was bound in contemporary calf with three pamphlets that make up the ‘Dixon- Meares’ controversy.

Unflattering remarks by Meares about the above-mentioned Dixon and Portlock led to the publication of Dixon’s Remarks… of 1790 and Further Remarks… of 1791, in between which Meares had issued his own Answer to Mr George Dixon.

This exceptional copy was last seen at Sotheby’s in 1993, when it set a record of £25,000 that has only now been broken.

Fundamental work

Bound in period Russian red morocco gilt, a rare complete copy in two quarto volumes of the 1802, St Petersburg first of Gavril Andreevich Sarychev’s account of his voyage to ‘…Northeastern Siberia, the Frozen Sea and the Eastern Ocean’* made a mid-estimate $70,000 (£52,240).

Described as “one of the fundamental and very rare early books on the Aleutian Islands”, it was one of only two complete copies offered at auction in 40 years – but might have made more if the other had not been seen at auction as recently as 2015, at PBA Galleries.

That copy, perhaps more significantly, had the maps and views bound as an oblong folio. It made $120,000 (then £75,470).

Published in 1811, another rare work by GA Sarychev was sold for $35,000 (£20,120).

Based in part on their expedition journals and notes, it recounts the dealings that two English mariners, Billings and Hall, had with the Chukchi people of eastern Siberia, who jealously guarded their monopolistic control of trade with Alaskan peoples across the Bering Strait.

Seized and jailed

Sold at $48,000 (£35,820) was a rare first of VM Golovnin’s two-volume account of an 1811-13 expedition to survey the still-disputed Kuril islands in the north Pacific. During the voyage he was seized and jailed for what Japan saw as a violation of its laws barring foreigners from entering the country.

Bound recently in red sheep gilt, but in a contemporary Russian style, his ‘…Adventures while a Captive of the Japanese’* is a work that seems to have no other auction presence.

A French text issue of his 1824-28 Atlas de l’océan pacifique that made a record $130,000 (£97,015) was one of the lots previously reported on the ATG webiste, but the key Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenshtern lot in the Greene collection was one of the sale’s principal failures.

A first of his account of the 1803- 06, first Russian circumnavigation of the globe, the three text volumes and folio atlas of 1810-14 here seen in a German text version, had been valued at $350,000-400,000.

A lot offering the text volumes only of the 1809-12, first Russian edition sold well at $35,000 (£26,120).

Yet another record was set by an 1812 inscribed presentation first of a text-only account of Kruzenshtern’s voyage of 1803-06 written by Iurii Fedorovich Lisianskii, commander of the Neva.

It includes an account of the author’s actions at Kodiak, where he drove back the Kolosh Indians who had slaughtered the garrison of the Russian-American Company’s fort at Sitka, and as such is a key early work on Alaska.

An atlas to this work, issued separately by the Naval Printing Office in the same same year, was not part of the lot, but with no other auction appearance to its name, this copy trebled the estimate at $50,000 (£37,315).

Also keenly contested was an 1828 first of Feodor Litke’s ‘Four Voyages to the Northern Frozen Ocean…’*, describing his 1821-24 voyages to survey Novaya Zemlya, the huge island that separates the Barents and Kara seas.

Litke failed to find a passage through the ice that would provide the long-sought-after Northeast Passage, but illustrated with numerous maps and coastal profiles – and never before seen at auction, seemingly – his book made $60,000 (£44,775).

Russian atlas


Written by Lt FG Innes Lillingston of the Royal Navy, The Land of the White Bear… is an 1876 account of the search for Franklin’s lost expedition. Last seen at Bonhams New York in 2013, when it made $3000, it sold this time for $4000 (£2955) at Christie’s as part of the Martin Greene collection, but in 2014 a better preserved copy in the Brook-Hitching collection made £5000. Other works relating to the Franklin search expeditions will appear in next week’s issue.

Something not present in the Martin Greene collection, but offered at Sotheby’s (25/20/12.9% buyer’s premium) on November 14 was a Russian atlas of the north-west coasts of America from the Bering Strait to Cape Corrientes and the Aleutian Islands, plus the north-east coast of Asia.

Published in St Petersburg in 1852, it was the work of Mikhail Tebenkov, a naval officer and hydrographer who spent 25 years in Alaska and the north Pacific and was chief administrator of the Russian- American colonies.

Engraved throughout, it contains more than 30 maps that were produced at Sitka c.1849 by Kozma Terentev, an Alaskan-Russian craftsman. This rare copy was a little stained and spotted in worn but original stiff wrappers and sold for a treble-estimate £35,000.

* Lots marked with an asterisk are those in which the Russian title has been given in English translation.

See next week’s ATG for more polar lots.