Lots and Lots

Lots and Lots

Finding and claiming a piece of local history is like panning a river for gold, except, in the Information Age, you can do it from home while wearing your jammies. Online auctions hosted by international platforms LiveAuctioneers and Invaluable as well as regional players like AuctionNinja, which is based in Connecticut, offer a steady flow of lots featuring intriguing and sometimes amazing New Haven artifacts waiting for local collectors to bring them home.

Items range from the seemingly abundant to the exceedingly rare. Among the former, at least categorically, are antique New Haven-made clocks and guns, whose heyday ubiquity and obvious collectibility means a fair few have survived. Clocks at auction right now include a lovely crystal regulator clock, a curvy and compact wooden desk clock, a portable brass carriage clock with carrying case, a “fancy walnut” gingerbread clock, an 1850s-dated Chauncey Jerome steeple clock and an advertising clock promoting Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey, a turn-of-the-century brand remembered for shamelessly exaggerating its medicinal qualities. Guns at auction include a beautiful tricolor single-shot pistol from the early 1860s, a Winchester Model 1892 dating to 1917, a 1952 Hi-Standard Supermatic pistol with dark brown “plastic swirl contoured grips” and a midcentury “sporting carbine with fold-down stock.”

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Among the rarest New Haven-related items being auctioned today—and certainly the oldest and the priciest, with a starting point of $60,000—is a second printing, in London, of the first map ever published in America. Printed in 1677 as an accompaniment to Massachusetts reverend William Hubbard’s book The Present State of New-England, being a Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England—a copy of which completes the lot—this “Map of New-England” is oriented with the north to the right, placing New Haven in the upper left corner as its southernmost colony. Text in the upper right corner describes the map as “the first that ever was here cut, and done by the best Pattern that could be had,” leaving it “in some places defective.” Even so, a comparison to maps of New England today, charted using infinitely more sophisticated tools, demonstrates the incredible skill and accuracy of America’s earliest mapmakers.

Published more than 250 years later, a very different historic map now at auction places New Haven front and center and uses much more color. Illustrated by local architect Carina Eaglesfield Mortimer and published in 1928 by the Edward P. Judd Company, this large pictorial map (pictured above), approximately 36 by 28 inches, highlights notable sites and happenings in addition to the requisite streets and geographical contours. But like the 1677 “New-England” map, it’s an emblem of both how little and how much time can change a place. Union Station, finished in 1920, is plunked on the map right where it is today, but the Bethany Airdrome, Connecticut’s first licensed airport and indicated at the map’s northwestern edge, has been grounded since 1965. The Yale Bowl, opened in 1914, hasn’t gained or lost any yardage, but the nearby Phipps Polo Field, donated to the school in 1926, is now the site of the Carol Roberts Field House. Nobody today would expect ancient and hallowed touchstones like the Grove Street Cemetery or the churches on the Green to map differently now than they did in 1928, and indeed they don’t. On the other hand, nobody in 1928 would have expected the city’s ancient and hallowed Long Wharf, at the time a literal wharf reaching thousands of feet into the harbor, to be replaced by a dredge-and-fill land expansion just a few decades later.

A historic local entity that’s not only survived but increased its footprint since 1928, when it occupied just the middle and eastern thirds of its current real estate, is the Yale University Art Gallery, the oldest college art gallery in America. It opened in 1832 after artist John Trumbull, whose best-known paintings canonize scenes and figures from the American Revolution, sold 88 works to Yale in exchange for a $1,000 annuity, reportedly the first contract of its kind. Today, bidders willing to pay at least $150 can vie for a direct account of both Trumbull’s and the gallery’s beginnings: a nicely preserved first edition of Autobiography, Reminiscences and Letters of John Trumbull, from 1756 to 1841, printed in the latter year by the New Haven publisher B. L. Hamlen.

A few decades on and only a few blocks from where the current gallery stands, the Rogers photo studio at 787 Chapel Street was giving ordinary New Haveners a chance at their own posterity. Present-day collectors can extend it for some of them thanks to an estate auction scattered with eight lots of personal and family portraits mostly attributed to Rogers in the 1870s.

As time has done to these photos, books, maps, guns and clocks, an essay like this can really only scratch the surface of the New Haven history that can be acquired at auction. I haven’t even mentioned the turn-of-the-century “memory fan” of a “no doubt charming and busy Connecticut young lady “antique scrimshaw” horn with New Haven Volunteer Fire Department carvings, or the six New Haven Nighthawks pennants including one signed by the team.

And while all the lots mentioned here are live right now, in a matter of weeks, as current auctions finish and new ones are listed, a whole new lot of old New Haven lots will be up for grabs.

Written by Dan Mims. Image, featuring the 1928 Mortimer map, photographed by New England Book Auctions.

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