Morning Sentinel
Old map's value off the charts
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Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 02/06/2010


Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- Gen. George Washington's map of the 1781 Battle of Yorktown sold Friday for $1.15 million, making it the highest-priced artifact ever sold at auction in Maine, auctioneer James Julia said Friday afternoon.

The pen-and-ink battle plan -- yellow marking the forward lines of the allied French and American armies, red showing the British formation -- was sold at the James D. Julia Inc. auction house on U.S. Route 201.

The map, a rendition of the famous battle made for Washington himself, shows the defeat of Lord Cornwallis' British army, causing the British to surrender, effectively ending the American Revolutionary War, James Julia said during a break in the action Friday.

It was prepared by the French Lt. Col. Jean Baptiste Gouvion for the Virginia campaign.

"It's the record for the most expensive antique ever sold in Maine, at auction," Julia said. "I don't know where it stands in the world of maps, but it is certainly one of the most expensive maps ever sold."

The second highest-price item in Maine was a Colt pistol sold by Julia at auction in 2007, which sold for almost $1 million.

"I'm ecstatic," Julia said of the sale of Washington's battle plan. "This map, as the price attests to, is one of the great historical documents in the history of our country. It is the map of the most important military engagement our country has ever been involved in and it was the first rendition of that particular battle ground."

Julia said he could not divulge the name of the buyer or where he lives. The sale was conducted by proxy, via telephone by one of Julia's associates.

The map and other artifacts were from a collection of the descendants of Stephen Decatur and Tobias Lear, who lived in Kittery Point, Maine, Julia said. Lear was Washington's aide-de-camp during the revolution and handled all of Washington's papers after his death.

The collection is from the estate of the late Alice Decatur Armsden and her late husband Douglas Armsden. Their three daughters elected to sell the historical trove at auction.

Julia said he suspected the entire collection would sell for at least $2 million. Proceeds from that collection and others sold Thursday and Friday will fetch close to $4 million, he said.

"Everything was divided up into three groups in the family -- what we have here represents one of the branches of the family," Julia said. "In the history of this country there is no more important battle than the Battle of Yorktown. This is where we defeated the British and where we got out independence.

"Ten days after the battle, Gouvion, who was a French lieutenant under Gen. Washington, oversaw the production of this map and another map," Julia said.

The other map, which is much larger, but in poorer condition, is in the National Archives.

"What is in the National Archives is the map that Washington had Lt. Gouvion prepare to send to the Continental Congress after the battle to tell them what the hell happened," he said. "This is George Washington's copy."

Julia said his company's research of similar artifacts revealed a small map of the siege of Yorktown drawn by Washington and it fetched about $5,000. He said he felt the battle plan rendition Friday was valued at about $250,000, but he realistically estimated it would sell for between $5,000 and $50,000.

"The sale of the Decatur-Armsden things brought approximately 10 times what it was estimated to," Julia, 63, said.

Friday's auction concluded Julia's two-day winter antiques and fine art auction. The Decatur-Armsden collection also contained many Washington letters and books, along with letters written by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Martha Washington.

Items were sold Friday to people who were present for the auction, as well as many others who were on the telephone or entered bids via computer to one or more of 20 Julia associates assembled at table to the right of the auction stand, where Julia barked out the prices.

Julia said his auction house grossed more than $40 million in sales last year.

Doug Harlow -- 474-9534