Spring 2021 sale of Printed & Manuscript African Americana Brings $1M

Our March 25, 2021 sale of Printed & Manuscript African Americana brought interest from collectors and institutions alike, as well as buyers both new and familiar from across the globe. The strong results crossed all categories with the sale totaling $1,075,786, and 88% of lots finding buyers. “This sale reflected an increased recognition of the importance of Black history, driven by the events of the last year. The material is getting into the hands of the passionate collectors and dedicated museums and archives who will help preserve this history for future generations,” noted Rick Stattler, the house’s vice president and specialist for the sale.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. & the Civil Rights Movement

Leading the sale was an early draft of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail. The unique pre-publication draft of Dr. King’s most enduring words sold for $185,000 to a bidder on the phone after a round of lively back-and-forth bidding. The price marks the highest result ever for a lot in the house’s more than twenty years offering African Americana.

Additional material relating to Dr. King, the Civil Rights Movement and segregation was a reel-to-reel tape recording of Dr. King speaking to the SCLC board in January of 1968 ($16,250); a pair of 1960 photographs of CORE sit-in at a New Orleans Woolworth’s lunch counter ($6,000); a group of press photographs and ephemera relating to the Scottsboro Boys ($7,500); and signage delineating segregated areas from Dallas in 1936–56 ($11,875), North Carolina circa 1940s ($9,100), and Georgia circa 1940s ($3,900).

Related Reading: Listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaking to the SCLC Board in 1968


Material relating to prominent figures in dance featured an archive with photographs, correspondence, and a diary of modern dance legend Katherine Dunham ($52,500), and a large group of letters by Dunham to a close friend ($35,000); from the short-lived but influential New York Negro Ballet Company was a group of circa 1957 photographs ($21,250). Also in entertainment were concert posters for the opening night of Run DMC’s 1986 Raising Hell tour ($6,500) and the original maquette for the 1982 Cultural Freebee Jam flyer ($7,500).

Artists & Authors

Artists and authors proved to be of interest to buyers with an original ink and wash portrait of activist Sue Bailey Thurman by Loïs Mailou Jones created for the 1942 Twelve American Women calendar ($8,750); the German poster for the 1972 Olympics designed and by signed by Jacob Lawrence ($6,760, a record); letters from 1927–49 to editor Black Opals editor Nellie Bright from Jessie Redmon Fauset, Laura Wheeler Waring and more ($16,250); and a 1925 press photograph of young Langston Hughes as a busboy ($4,500).


Publications of note included four issues of Black Opals, Philadelphia, 1927–28, the legendary limited-edition literary journal ($45,000), Banneker’s Almanack, and Ephemeris for the Year of our Lord, 1793, Philadelphia, 1792, by Benjamin Banneker ($42,500), Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, London, 1773, a first edition of the first book by an African American—Phillis Wheatley ($26,250), and a first edition of Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave Emancipated from Bodily Servitude, Boston, 1850 ($16,250, a record).

Consign with Swann.