Records & Results: Printed & Manuscript African Americana — March 21, 2024

Swann’s March 21, 2024 sale of Printed & Manuscript African Americana proved once again to be a success among institutions and collectors alike. The sale brought $967,061, closing well within the estimate range, and brought an 81% sell-through rate by lot with 281 registered bidders competing throughout the sale.

Rare Books

The top lot of the sale was a 1958 special promotional giveaway by the Esso Standard Oil Company issue of the always popular Green Book, which brought $35,000. Three notable book auction records were set: $4,750 for a first edition of Sarah Bradford’s Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman; $16,250 for an unsigned 1845 first edition of Frederick Douglass’s first book Narrative of the Life; and $10,000 for W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction.

Pop Culture

Left: The Greater Black Patti Troubadours. Black Patti, Greatest Singer of Her Race (Mme. Sissiereta Jones.), circa 1900. Sold for $18,750.

The most visually striking piece in the sale, a large poster circa 1900 of opera singer Sissieretta Jones which had never been seen at auction, brought $18,750, and an 1840 theater broadside for English actor Ira Aldridge‘s performance of Shakespeare and Jim Crow, at $27,500. On the other end of the musical spectrum, a collection of disco club fliers from the early 1970s brought $8,750.

Additional Highlights

Badge issued to a private in the “Glory” regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, who was wounded at Fort Wagner, circa 1864. Sold for $21,250.

Further lots of notes included a badge issued to a soldier from the famous 54th Massachusetts, which brought $21,250; an album of carte-de-visite portraits of abolitionists including Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and more earned $21,250; the papers of 1930s Marxist activist Simon Williamson, which brought $18,750; and Winifred Hall’s Portrait of a bride and groom, circa 1930s, at $15,000.

Right: Engraved portrait of James Armistead Lafayette, master spy for the Continental Army, circa 1820s or 1830s. Sold for $12,350.

A large portion of the top lots were won by institutions and dealers. Private collectors did take away four of the top 25 lots, including an 1893 Frederick Douglass letter on the Chicago World’s Fair, which was sold at $12,500, and an engraved portrait of Revolutionary War spy James Armistead Lafayette, which earned $11,875.