Records & Results: Printed & Manuscript African Americana
On Thursday, March 30, our annual auction of Printed & Manuscript African Americana exceeded $1M for the first time in the department’s 20+ year history. The success was largely due to interest surrounding a carte-de-visite album from the 1860s that contained a previously unknown photograph of Harriet Tubman.
Lot 75: Carte-de-visite album of 48 photographs, including two photos of Harriet Tubman, one previously unrecorded, circa 1860s. Sold March 30, 2017 for $161,000.
The album topped the sale, selling for $161,000, above a pre-sale high estimate of $30,000. Specialist Wyatt Houston Day discovered the photograph of Tubman in the album, compiled by Quaker abolitionist Emily Howland in the 1860s. The album contains 48 photographs, including 44 cartes-de-visite of noted abolitionists, politicians and friends of Howland.
Lot 256: Collection of papers relating to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, 1955-63. Sold March 30, 2017 for $18,750.
The sale also featured “the strongest selection of Civil Rights material we’ve ever offered,” said Mr. Day. An archive of documents relating to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, including checks endorsed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., realized $18,750.
Lot 260: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., My Dear Fellow Clergymen, typed working draft for Letter From Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963. Sold March 30, 2017 for $40,000.
Half of the top lots were institutional purchases, including a working draft for Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963 and a West African cast bronze Kuduo ritual burial jar, circa eighteenth- to nineteenth century ($10,624).
Lot 382: Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, first edition, inscribed, 1937. Sold March 30, 2017 for $7,800, a record.
The sale broke several long-standing records, including $7,800 for an inscribed first edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937, which since 1992 had stood at $1,000.
Lot 80: Frederick Douglass, Autograph Letter Signed to George Alfred Townsend, “A few friends in England bought me and made me a present of myself,” Washington, May 5, 1880. Sold March 30, 2017 for $100,000.
Material relating to Frederick Douglass saw new records, including an 1880 Autograph Letter Signed to George Alfred Townsend, in which Douglass writes, “You are wrong in saying I bought my liberty, a few friends in England bought me and made me a present of myself,” which reached $100,000, more than doubling the previous record for a letter by the famed abolitionist. An inscribed first edition of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 1845, exceeded all expectations by selling for $37,500, above a high estimate of $4,000.
Lot 150: Benjamin Banneker’s Almanac for 1795, Baltimore, 1794. Sold March 30, 2017 for $55,000.
Another record price went to Benjamin Banneker’s Almanac for 1795 at $55,000, the second highest price ever paid for an American almanac at auction.
Swann Galleries is the oldest specialist auction house in New York, and the world’s largest auctioneer of Works on Paper. This month, the house celebrated the diamond anniversary of its first sale, an auction of books and literary properties, held March 27, 1942. The Printed & Manuscript African Americana department at Swann Galleries, the only one of its kind, has been holding sales since 1996.