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Press Release

Butterfields’ June Sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts Features Harold & Agnes Keith Collection of Borneo and Southeast Asian Literature

12 June, 2002 San Francisco…Butterfields, the west coast’s leading auctioneer, is pleased to present an important collection of Borneo and Southeast Asian literature from the Harold and Agnes Keith Collection on Thursday, June 27, 2002 in San Francisco and via the Internet. This historically significant collection will be presented during the Fine Books & Manuscripts sale, comprising two sessions, the later session featuring Entertainment Memorabilia including vintage posters and classic Hollywood collectibles.

Agnes Newton Keith was an ambitious young reporter for the San Francisco Examiner in 1932 when she was beaten by a mugger outside their offices and suffered severe memory loss for several years. During her recovery in Los Angeles she became re-acquainted with a friend of her brother’s, Harry G. Keith, an urbane British foreign officer stationed in North Borneo as Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture. They were married the day before he had to return by ship to North Borneo and there she began a new life in the South Pacific.

The profound tranquility of Sandakan before the War inspired her to write a book about her experiences and enter it in the 1939 Atlantic Monthly Non-Fiction Prize Contest. That book was entitled Land Below the Wind, an old seafarer’s term for the South Pacific islands that fall below the traditional typhoon routes, and won the contest by unanimous vote. The biography went on to become a bestseller and the title is employed to this day as the unofficial motto for the state of Sabah, Malaysia, the successor of North Borneo.

The Japanese Army ended their idyllic seclusion in 1942 when they invaded North Borneo and sent the Keith family off to a POW compound for just over three years. Although keeping notes was a capital offence, Agnes wrote a diary on the backs of labels and in the margins of newspapers, which she buried in tins or sewed inside her son’s home-made toys. After the war Agnes Keith wrote her second book, Three Came Home, another bestseller which went on to become a successful film starring Claudert Colbert in 1950. Their former house in Sandakan is now a museum and is one of the leading attractions in Sabah, Malaysia.

The Keiths were also passionate bibliophiles and collected an extensive array of books and documents relating to Borneo and Southeast Asia. Many of the items in their 1000+ volume library are unique presentation copies or the sole surviving examples of early monographs on the region. Without a doubt, this collection constitutes the most important collection of rare books and manuscripts relating to Borneo ever to have come up for auction.

Highlights from the collection include:

-Five early tracts by Sir James Brooke, the first Rajah of Sarawak, several presentation copies inscribed by the author to Walter Read, one of the founders of the British North Borneo Company. Bound together in one volume, these scarce monographs include "A Letter from Borneo" (1842) and "A Vindication of the Character and Proceedings…" (1853). The Keith collection also includes many signed and presentation copies of works by Charles and Anthony Brooke, Lady Raffles and John Leyden, among others.

-"Statement and Application Addressed to the Marquess of Salisbury. G. G., Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, &c., &c., &c., by the Undersigned on Behalf of Themselves and Their Associates. North Borneo." W. Greaves & Co., London, [1878].

The original charter application for the British North Borneo Company, privately printed for the founders, Alfred Dent and Baron von Overbeck. The charter was eventually granted on Nov. 1 1881, and the British North Borneo Chartered Company became the entity whichconstituted the State of North Borneo. This original charter application is arguably the founding document of British North Borneo and the modern state of Sabah, Malaysia.

-A number of rare early monographs by BNBC officials, including Cowie, Treacher, Pryer, Donop and others, and the first works printed in Sandakan from the press of W. Rozario. Many of these items are not listed in any institutional holdings, including the British Library, and may well be the only surviving extant copies.

-A volume of autograph letters by Capt. Francis Xavier Witti (1881-82) written during his ill-fated mission through the heart of Borneo that led to his infamous demise at the hands of head-hunters, including the final letter before his death.

-A unique copy of the "Proclamation" of the Commander of the Japanese Forces upon their invasion of Sandakan issued on January 19 1942, as well as the sole surviving example of Khabar Perang (later Sandakan Nippo), the propaganda newspaper of the Japanese occupying forces in Sandakan, complete in 265 individual issues.

-A number of rare, privately printed accounts of prisoner of war camps in Borneo and Malaysia, including scarce works by Archer, Simpson and others.

-Several scarce collections of early scholarly journals, including Moor’s Notices of the Indian Archipelago (1837) and Logan’s Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia (1847-1853).

-Many important early explorations of the region, including works by Jacob Jansz de Roy, Beeckman, Sonnerat, Thomas Forrest, and James Rennell’s personal copy of Dalyrymple’s Historical Collection of the Several Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean.

-An extensive library of over 100 19th century accounts by European travellers, including seminal works by Bock, Belcher, Crawfurd, Dienaar, Keppel, Mundy and Schwaner.

-Many important works of natural history and illustration relating to the early exploration of Borneo, including a presentation copy of Beccari’s Nelle Foreste di Borneo (1902), Bethune’s Views of the Eastern Archipelago, John Whitehead’s magnificent folio volume on Mount Kinabalu, and important works by Temminck, Marryat, and Molengraaff.

The fine selection of rare books also includes rare travel literature, botanicals, Americana and fine bindings and will be previewed for potential bidders in Los Angeles June 14-16 and in San Francisco June 21-23. Butterfields’ illustrated auction catalog can be viewed online at Online real-time bidding during the 194-lot auction will be powered by eBay’s Live Auctions capability.

Specialist Contacts:
Dr. Martin Gammon, Fine Books, Manuscripts, (415) 503-3207 Email:

Media Contacts:
Monique Crine and Levi Morgan, Butterfields, (415) 503-3348 Email:



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