Here’s What’s Coming to Auction from the Estate of Anthropologists and Food Historians Sophie and Michael Coe

James Ardis
Published on

New Haven Auctions presents books, fine art, and ethnographic pieces from the estate.

Photo of Sophie and Michael Coe. Photo by the Hurriyet Daily News.
Photo of Sophie and Michael Coe. Photo by the Hurriyet Daily News.

Sophie Coe earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology at Harvard in 1964. She and her husband, noted Mesoamerican anthropologist Michael Coe, traveled around the world for research. During their travels, Sophie’s interest in cooking transformed into a life-long study of food history.

After publishing America’s First Cuisines in 1994, Coe’s scholarly focus turned more directly towards chocolate. She was immersed in research for what would become The True History of Chocolate (1997) when she was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away only a few months after the diagnosis, and her husband promised to see her research through to the end. “Lest it be thought that it was some kind of burden or sacrifice for me to finish Sophie’s book,” Michael Coe writes in the introduction to The True History of Chocolate, “I want to state here that it was a true pleasure.”

Le Thé et Le Chocolat by Eugène and Auguste Pelletier. Photo courtesy of New Haven Auctions.
Le Thé et Le Chocolat by Eugène and Auguste Pelletier. Photo courtesy of New Haven Auctions.

Coming to auction as part of the Antiques from Estates & Collections event, presented by New Haven Auctions, are items from the late anthropologists’ estate. This includes a copy of Le Thé et Le Chocolat, an 1861 French cookbook by Eugène and Auguste Pelletier. The book is signed by the authors. 

Also coming from the couple’s book collection is 1706’s Duncan on Liquors by Dr. Duncan. In the book, Dr. Duncan offers “wholesome advice against the abuse of hot liquors.” The doctor includes coffee, hot chocolate, tea, brandy, and “strong waters” in this category. Marginalia on the title page indicates one of the book’s owners, perhaps Sophie Coe, found this to be “a very interesting and curious book.”

Beyond chocolate, bidders will also find a personal account of an Arctic rescue by explorer Elisha Kent Kane from 1857. Kane and his team were tasked with either rescuing or finding the remains of Sir John Franklin’s expedition. Franklin perished in the Arctic while trying to document and navigate the Northwest Passage. Kane’s admiration for Franklin is documented throughout the book. He writes that Franklin had “an enthusiasm almost boyish, he had a spirit of large but fearless forecast, and a sensitive kindness of heart.”

Early South American Native stone grinder. Photo courtesy of New Haven Auctions.
Early South American Native stone grinder. Photo courtesy of New Haven Auctions.

Michael and Sophie Coe collected ethnographic pieces throughout their travels and research. Some examples available in this auction include a South American stone grinder and three pre-Colombian fragments, presented in a single lot. Michael Coe’s lifetime of anthropological research helped scholars’ understanding of Mesoamerican cultures. Among his contributions to the field was an excavation in San Lorenzo, Mexico, which proved the Olmec were a much older civilization than previously believed.

Rounding out the featured lots available from the anthropologists’ estate are fine art pieces by 20th-century Chinese painter Pu Ru. As the cousin of the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Pu was once considered a candidate to be the next emperor. But when the dynasty was overthrown, Pu became the self-titled “Hermit of Mt. West” and worked as a painter and teacher. Among his pieces available in this event are a landscape painting and a portrait of a bird.

Red Zhong Kui by Pu Ru. Photo courtesy of New Haven Auctions.
Red Zhong Kui by Pu Ru. Photo courtesy of New Haven Auctions.

The Antiques from Estates & Collections live event is presented by New Haven Auctions. Bidding begins at 10:00 AM CDT on June 28th, 2020. Interested bidders can register and view each of the lots on Bidsquare.