London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Sotheby’s auction house told Asharq Al-Awsat that the hand drawn map by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), slated for sale at Sotheby’s in November in London, has been pulled from the auction by its owner, London’s Royal Society for Asian Affairs (RSAA). Sotheby’s declined to comment further.
The sale of the map was announced in an article published in Asharq Al-Awsat on September 11 (Arabic edition).
Asharq Al-Awsat contacted the RSAA to discover the reasons for withdrawing the map. Their media spokesperson declined to comment on the issue, saying that any questions should be addressed to the auction house.
The map, originally due to be auctioned this week, attracted widespread interest. Following the announcement of its removal from the auction, questions were raised about Sotheby’s protocol.
Sotheby’s terms and conditions state that it reserves the right to pull any item before the start of an auction. An official at the auction house said the agreement between the seller and the house differs each time and so do the terms and conditions included in the contract. He added that the withdrawal of an item is rare, but the situation in such cases depends on the terms and conditions in the contract signed between the house and the owner.
Some prospective buyers and other interested parties explain the RSAA’s decision to retract the item as it having been previously undervalued. The map was priced at a relatively modest 70,000–100,000 British pounds.
Others said there may have been an anonymous buyer who purchased the map prior to the auction. However, all of these theories are speculation and it is unlikely we’ll know the whereabouts of the map unless it appears again on the auction scene.
The map was drawn by T.E. Lawrence in 1918 shortly after the end of the First World War. It includes the notes he wrote in the days before his famous five-day journey in May 1917 through the Al-Nafud desert in the northern Arabian Peninsula to the Red Sea port of Aqaba, at the height of the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule. The journey was made a few days before what is seen as a decisive victory for the Arab uprising: domination of the Red Sea port later in the same year.
On the map, Lawrence wrote a note to the recipient: “This is the only drawn copy so please do not lose it prematurely.”