On March 27, 1942, Benjamin Swann held an auction dedicated to rare and antiquarian books. Since then, Swann Galleries has become the largest auctioneer of Works on Paper in the world, and New York's oldest specialty auction house.
In the last 75 years we have grown from a four-person office to a dynamic community of collectors and specialists dedicated to integrity and innovation in the field, with departments devoted to Americana, African-American Fine Art, Autographs, Contemporary Art, Illustration Art, Maps & Atlases, Photographs & Photobooks, Printed & Manuscript African Americana, Prints & Drawings, Vintage Posters and, of course, Rare & Antiquarian Books.
Catalogue cover for the first Swann auction, 1942.
On my first day at Swann as Americana specialist, a man walked in with minimal advance notice to show us an old Declaration of Independence. I expected it to be the usual Bicentennial reprint, but it was an original 1823 Stone printing. It was quite worn but still worth at least $100,000. I thought, "this job will be pretty easy," not realizing what a lucky day it was.
Director, Books Department
Specialist, Printed & Manuscript Americana
One thing that I suppose doesn't happen at other houses: the print department has held some remarkable Halloween print auctions in which the entire department, including auctioneer, conducted the auction in costume.
Prints & Drawings held an auction in 2013 to celebrate the centennial of the "Armory Show", America's famed introduction in 1913 to modern European art, which took place across the street from the Swann offices at the Park Avenue Armory. We offered a highly curated selection of prints, drawings, paintings and sculptures by artists who were featured in the Armory Show exhibition (there was even a work that was in the original 1913 show!) To be a part of an auction that brought together so many disparate but historically connected items, from such a range of artists, was an irreplaceable experience, and demonstrates Swann's commitment to presenting the history surrounding the material that we sell.
Senior Specialist, Prints & Drawings
One of my favorite stories concerns a partial set of Curtis photogravures that descended from the photographer's printer to a family member. The plates had been trimmed and bound into three leather-bound books. At auction, there was a lot of buzz associated with the images and, as a result, each volume exceeded its high estimate. The proceeds meant the consignor's daughter could attend the college of her choice. For Swann, the record sales brought attention to us as a competitive venue, paving the way for subsequent million-dollar sales of The North American Indian (books and folios), which we've proudly offered.
Director, Photographs & Photobooks
With Nicho’s enthusiastic support, we opened our African-American Fine Art department in the fall of 2006. I was motivated to elevate both the stature and value of African-American artists. Already we have brought hundreds of artists to auction for the first time, and are now in our tenth year. Only at Swann could this department have happened.
Director, African-American Fine Art
In June 2015, we offered works by Paul Cadmus & His Circle from the collection of Jon Anderson & Philis Raskind-Anderson and brought the couple in for a panel event. As the culmination of Swann's ongoing relationship with the Andersons, it was heartwarming to share their stories about Paul with the broader Swann family of employees and clients alike. Swann's ability to build community and add depth to our daily activities is one of our greatest strengths.
Specialist, Prints & Drawings
Ben Swann laid the foundation for a business that is personal and professional. I have always loved that Swann is both a neighborhood business and an international player on the art market. I love that I feel "at home" in this family business, but also that I have opportunities to create, generate, and contribute globally.
Associate Director, Photographs & Photobooks