Auction Highlights: Autographs — June 25, 2024

Pop Culture (Lots 1–30)

Collectors of popular culture have a new place to look for autographs by folks who are making waves right now or whose earthshaking presence is still felt long after they’ve gone. The new popular culture section of the Swann autographs auction is premiering at the head of our June 25 sale, and it features an astonishing run of autograph letters by Janis Joplin, written during a singularly formative year before exploding on the psychedelic scene of the late 1960s—and her untimely death in 1970 (Lots 18-23). The letters were written to her lover–and briefly fiancé—at a time when Joplin was desperately trying to change the way she saw herself and how others saw her.

Also in the section are several lots by pop artists Andy Warhol (Lots 9-11) and Robert Indiana (Lots 1-8), including 8 lots of original drawings by Indiana. Other things that go “pop” include the sound of a baseball after a powerful swing from sluggers Babe Ruth (Lot 25) or Lou Gehrig (Lot 24), each of whom signed uncommon autographs found in this section.

Lot 10: Andy Warhol, Cow, exhibition poster for his 1971 retrospective at the Whitney Museum, Signed and Inscribed, 1971. Estimate: $2,000 to $3,000.
Lot 24: Lou Gehrig, autograph inscription signed to a fan, written in the blank space at end of his letter, 1935. Estimate: $3,500 to $5,000.

Americana (Lots 31–78)

If you agree that the people of our time would benefit by being more in touch with the founding documents of the U.S., the June autographs auction might be able to help. This sale contains over 40 autographs by signers of the Declaration of Independence, including some of the more uncommon, such as a draft of a Congressional resolution in the hand of Arthur Middleton (Lot 36), and an autograph letter signed by Francis Lewis conveying breaking news about the battles of Lexington and Concord (Lot 35).

There are also better-known signers whose autographs are available in this sale, including John Adams, who wrote an autograph letter signed to his friend Benjamin Rush while negotiating the Treaty of Paris (Lot 31), and an autograph letter signed by Benjamin Rush himself, also a signer, complaining of too many Tories in medicine (Lot 68).

Lot 68: Benjamin Rush, autograph letter signed, complaining that American medicine is full of colonial sympathizers, 1811. Estimate: $3,000 to $4,000.

One of the more remarkable autographs in the sale is an item by someone who had more to do with the establishing of the U.S. Constitution than the Declaration of Independence: Alexander Hamilton, who wrote (in Lot 50) an autograph letter signed to the Governor of Pennsylvania, announcing that troops are gathering at Carlisle to quash the Whiskey Rebellion.

Lot 50: Alexander Hamilton, autograph letter signed as Secretary of the Treasury, to Governor Thomas Mifflin, conveying reports of disruptions and announcing the arrival of troops to maintain order, 1794. Estimate: $20,000 to $30,000.

World Leaders & More (Lot 79–115)

Today’s world stage is shared by other great powers which have their own origin stories, including China, whose Deng Xiaoping played an undisputedly critical role in that nation’s rise. This section includes an uncommon item, a Newsweek magazine signed not only by Deng, but also by President Jimmy Carter at a time when those leaders worked to bring their nations closer together (Lot 113).

Lot 113: Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter, Newsweek magazine, signed on front cover by both, 1979. Estimate: $6,000 to $9,000.

U.S. Presidents (Lots 116–138)

If powerful world leaders seem distant from the concerns of everyday people, there is little that shows the human side of such figures as autographs, such as the autograph letter signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to a 9-year-old girl, responding to her condolence letter after his son Quentin’s plane was fatally shot down during the First World War (Lot 132).

Lot 132: Theodore Roosevelt, autograph letter signed, to nine-year-old Betty Transeau concerning death of her cousin and his own son Quentin, 1918. Estimate: $2,500 to $3,500.

Musicians (Lots 139–146)

One need not be a politician to lead hearts–the musician can do this, no matter what language you speak, since music is the language of the heart. The Russian Tchaikovsky, for instance, while visiting Czechoslovakia, wrote a note in German on his visiting card, which can be found in Lot 145.

Lot 145: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, autograph note signed, to a Czech soprano on his visiting card, 1892. Estimate: $6,000 to $9,000.

Writers (Lots 147–171)

A writer must have an uncommon greatness to influence the heart of so great a writer as John Milton, and the 16th-century poet Torquato Tasso can fairly be said to have achieved it by having shaped Milton’s idea of the enduring symbol of the mythical flaming fowl when Milton read Tasso’s poem, “The Phoenix,” a fair copy of which is available in Lot 166.

Lot 166: Torquato Tasso, autograph manuscript signed, his poem: “The Phoenix,” 1586. Estimate: $50,000 to $75,000.

Artists (Lots 172–182)

Among visual artists, few can evoke more stirring feelings of political injustice than Diego Rivera, who signed and inscribed a reproduction of his 1954 painting Glorious Victory (Lot 178). And there are other stirring autographs to be found in the June 25 auction–by aviators, scientists, royalty, and others.

Lot 178: Diego Rivera, reproduction of his 1954 painting Glorious Victory signed and inscribed. Estimate: $700 to $1,000.

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