Records & Results: Printed & Manuscript Americana — June 2024

Swann closed out June 2024 with a standout Printed & Manuscript Americana sale on Thursday, June 27. The auction earned $1 million against a $647,100 to $970,700 pre-sale estimate and had an 82% sell-through rate by lot. Specialist Rick Stattler noted: “This was Swann’s strongest Americana auction in almost five years, and the energy surrounding the sale reflected that. A return to active in-person bidding in the saleroom helped bring back some of the old-fashioned auction enthusiasm.”

Dealers and private collectors constituted the bulk of the top buyers in the auction. At least 15 institutions won lots, some of them winning multiple lots, continuing Swann’s long tradition of placing material at institutions in these Americana auctions.

The Book of Mormon

The top lot and highlight of the sale was an 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon, which sold to a dealer for $185,000—a new auction record, just nosing out the Orson Pratt copy sold by Swann in 2007 for $180,000.  It is also the fourth-highest price ever realized for an Americana lot at Swann. Swann has been the leading auction house for Mormon books, selling 13 copies of the first edition over the past two decades, and prices have increased dramatically just in the past three years. The other Mormon lot in the sale, the first partial Spanish translation of the Book of Mormon dated 1875, also went well beyond the pre-sale estimate, selling to a private collector for $30,000.

Frederick Douglass & African Americana

Left: Frederick Douglass, Oration Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, 1852. Sold for $87,500.

The other dramatic result was a first separate printing of the famous “Oration Delivered in Corinthian Hall” by Frederick Douglass, in which he asked “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” It was the first one traced at auction since a Swann sale in 2003. It brought $87,500. Also of note was a first edition of Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude, Boston, 1850, which sold for $11,875.

General Americana and Latin Americana

Other highlights included a group of correspondence regarding doomed Titanic passengers, sold to a private collector at $15,000. The first Spanish-Nahuatl dictionary from 1555 sold to an institution for $32,500. A photo album from the nation’s first aviation meet from 1910 brought $10,400, leading a large aviation section.

American Revolution Material

Two annotated books—a Book of Common Prayer with references to the King replaced by Congress, $8,750, and a volume of correspondence between British generals Cornwallis and Clinton with extensive manuscript notes, $27,500—led a strong American Revolution section.