What’s in a Sale: Focus on Women

Swann held its first sale dedicated to the accomplishments of women on July 15, 2021. The sale, curated by senior specialist Devon Eastland, included materials that aimed to highlight the stories of all those in the community who identify as women in the fields of activism, art and design, community, education, entertainment, health and wellness, science and innovation, sport, and work. Notable highlights from this auction include an exhibition binding from 1902 created by the Guild of Women Binders which delivered $12,350—the Guild was established in 1898 to provide women training in the craft. An archive of letters written by Jane Russell also performed well in the sale. The letters, written by the wife of a Massachusetts ship captain, reveal a young woman’s experience aboard a whaling ship in the South Pacific in the 1840s and earned $30,000.

Guild of Women Binders Exhibition Binding, 1902. Sold July 2021 for $12,350.

In the two sales that have followed, we’ve seen success with literary icons, including an autograph letter signed by Louisa May Alcott in which she describes the beloved heroine of Little Women, Jo March, universally identified as a thinly-veiled depiction of Alcott herself, as “a failure” that earned $23,750 over a $1,200 to $1,800 estimate, and an archive of photographs and letters descended directly from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s family that brought $60,000; a family archive of photos and letters sent home by Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife Fanny Stevenson that documents her life with the author in Samoa, at $25,000, and Loretta Belle Tulian’s photo albums and travel diaries of life in the American West achieved $5,250.

Louisa May Alcott, Autograph Letter Signed, written in reponse to a fan letter praising Little Women, post-1868. Sold June 2022 for $23,750.

As we move into the fourth iteration of the sale, we’re aiming to better define its scope.

Art or texts that directly represent feminist pursuits and ideology, like Mary Beth Edelson’s Some Living American Women Artists, Guerrilla Girls posters, and Suffrage materials

Art or texts made by women in fields in which women had (or have) been grossly underrepresented. Trailblazers: the literal first or members of the first generation of women to have success as illustrators, painters, writers, sculptors, etc. People like Amelia Earhart, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, Phillis Wheatley, political figures, scientists, even heretofore obscure figures are of interest.

Art or texts that illustrate the physical, personal, cultural, or emotional experience of being a woman. This would include art made by women that also portrays women, or artists in different media working together, self-portraits, portraits of other artists, writers, thinkers, activists, meditations on work, motherhood, the body, etc. 

Art that incorporates techniques or materials that is typically, or could be, considered craft. For example, Myrlande Constant’s beaded Haitian Vodou banners, or the silk apron by Diane Katsiaficas‘s printed with images of female silk workers. 

Material created by anyone who identifies as a woman, including work by and depictions of queer and trans women.

Focus on Women’s main goal is to exceed expectations, filling a gap in the market, and seeing material sell better and for higher prices because of its presence in the sale.

Myrlande Constant, Bousou, Drapo Vodou, Hatian Vodou Banner. Sold June 2023 for $5,500.

The spring sale is scheduled for May 23, 2024.

December 18, 2023
Category: Focus On Women