Trawling estate sales for undervalued treasures has become a popular topic on social media, but one antiques dealer found a truly historic item among the belongings of a famous couple.
In the virtual tour of the Christie’s estate sale for oil heir Gordon Getty and his wife Ann, Alex Clausen noticed an antique nautical map, known as a portolan chart. Christie’s had dated the item between 1500 and 1525, and given it an estimate between $100,000 and $150,000. Getty and his wife had also purchased it from Christie’s during an auction in 1993.
Clausen, who is president of Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc., suspected it was much older. In October of last year, Clausen and his team purchased the map at Christie’s for $239,400.
After months of research—including pigment analysis, multi-spectral imaging, carbon dating tests, as well as consultations with scholars and cataloguers—Clausen and his team determined the vellum map was likely made in Venice and from 1360.
This new date made the purchase from the Getty estate the oldest portolan chart in the US—older than the ones owned by the business titans and portolan hunters Henry Huntington, J. P. Morgan, or James Ford Bell, or the ones on display at the Morgan Library and Museum and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Clausen’s is also the fourth-oldest surviving “complete” portolan chart of Europe.
To put that date in context, the map Clausen purchased from Christie’s last fall was made approximately 130 years before Columbus first reached the New World.
Clausen and his team named the map the Rex Tholomeus Portolan Chart of 1360, for its detailed homage to Claudius Ptolemy, the 2nd century historian, mathematician and geographer.
Provenance information about the map includes its initial discovery by Italian scholar Pietro Amat di San Filippo in the library of Prince Corsini’s palace in Florence in 1888, where it was “tentatively dated” from 1347 to 1354. The portolan was included in several published studies, including one by British astronomer and geographer Arthur C. Hinks in 1929, that concluded it was produced in the 14th century. Prior to its two appearances at Christie’s, the map belonged to Anglo-Italian photographer John Alfred Spranger. Spranger’s daughter Elizabeth Graff was the consigner for the first Christie’s auction in 1993.
On the website for Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, the listing for the Rex Tholomeus Portolan Chart of 1360 says “price on request.” However, company CEO Barry Lawrence Ruderman confirmed to ARTnews the price is $7.5 million.
While the price puts the portolan in the realm of only the most wealthy map collectors, Clausen told the Los Angeles Times he imagines a university or museum might want to purchase it for public display and additional research.