Rare book specialist puts collection up for auction

March 29, 2012 4:20:00 PM PDT
One of Chicago's premier rare book specialists is putting much of his collection on the auction block.

If you have tens of thousands to spend you could become the owner of some of the world's most treasured maps and literary works. They will be sold at Christie's in New York, but the books are on display now in Chicago.

The secure environment reflects the value of the maps, cartography books and titles on display at Christie's Chicago. Kenneth Nebenzahl, an 85-year-old Chicago rare book seller and academic, is parting with much of what he has collected over a lifetime.

Nebenzahl is well known for his stunning selection of ancient cartography . One book chronicles what the world was thought to look like just 70 years after Christopher Columbus' historic voyage.

How significant is this collection?

"It is extremely significant," said Christie's New York's Francis Wahlgren, international head of books and manuscripts. "I mean, it is a real eye-opener when you see the quality of the material here. There are some items we will never see again. These are the kinds of things that belong in museums."

Wahlgren says Nebenzahl could have moved to the art salons of New York but focused on flourishing in Chicago. His collection offers some of the most compelling portraits that survived the Great Fire of 1871.

"These things do represent his legacy, because he covers all the areas he himself specialized in," said Wahlgren.

A first edition of Darwin's Origin of Species is likely to go for more than $50,000.

But the gem of gems is a complete set of Edward Curtis' photographic plates of Native Americans. the 1903 Japan vellum framing the photos rivals the drama of the subjects. The set could fetch $1.5 million, part of $7 million worth of treasures to be sold.

The auction will be held on April 10 at Christie's in New York.