On the heels of the swearing-in of the nation’s first African-American president, Swann Galleries will offer outstanding historical material in their annual auction of Printed & Manuscript African Americana on Feb. 26. The sale features books and documents related to slavery and abolition, the modern civil rights movement, the military, literature, art, photography, music, film, business, religion, and more.
Swann introduced entire auctions devoted to significant examples of printed and manuscript African Americana in 1996, and continues to be the only major auction house to conduct sales dedicated to this rapidly growing area of collecting. For more than a decade, fascinating items have come to public attention at these auctions, which are organized by expert Wyatt H. Day.
A particularly remarkable item in this year’s auction is an archive of five hours of original 16-millimeter film shot by African-American minister Reverend Solomon Sir Jones between 1925 and 1928. This is a remarkable cultural discovery, offering a previously unseen view of black life in the 1920s. Reverend Jones began recording life in the oil-rich black townships of Oklahoma in 1925 and captured the activities of working class, middle class and wealthy African Americans during a period of economic prosperity in America. He also took his camera on travels in the U.S. and abroad, including a trip to the Holy Land. The film has been professionally conserved and transferred onto DVD (estimate $40,000 to $60,000).
The sale opens with a selection of items related to slavery and abolition. Highlights include an insurance policy for the slave ship Lily on the final leg of the Atlantic triangle, Newport, R.I., 1795 ($4,000 to $6,000); the slave ship captain’s log book and other documents concerning the capture of the Portuguese slave ship Victoria by a British ship, Sierra Leone, 1814 ($5,000 to $7,500); and a first edition of Wilson Armistead’s A Tribute For the Negro, inscribed by the author to William Wells Brown, the writer and abolitionist, Manchester, 1848 ($5,000 to $7,500).
Material relating to abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass includes an Autograph Letter Signed acknowledging a letter complimenting him on his work, tipped into a copy of The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Nov. 11, 1882 ($6,000 to $8,000); a first edition of his only piece of fiction, the novella The Heroic Slave, Boston, 1853 ($4,000 to $6,000); and Heroes of the Colored Race, circa 1881, a scarce proof before letters of a chromolithograph print depicting Douglass flanked by the first African-American U.S. Senators, Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce ($5,000 to $7,500).
Also featured is a collection of 20 Autograph Signatures of African-American politicians elected to Congress during Reconstruction, 1868-1897 ($30,000 to $40,000).
Another important American historical figure, educator Booker T. Washington, is represented by a group of 12 pages of manuscript notes for speeches, some short phrases such as “How the Negro Works,” and “South Hungry,” Tuskegee, circa 1900 ($8,000 to $10,000).
Of special note among items related to the Caribbean are five different hand-colored lithographs of Haitian liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture, among them Francois Seraphim Delpech’s rare 1838 bust portrait ($5,000 to $7,500), and the same artist’s three-quarter length view of L’Ouverture with his hand on his sword—the first example of this image to come to auction ($2,000 to $3,000). Also pertaining to L’Ouverture is an important March 1802 letter from General Leclerc, commander in chief of the French expeditionary forces, who was sent to recapture L’Ouverture and re-establish slavery in Haiti, to General Desforneaux, discussing pursuit of L’Ouverture ($4,000 to $6,000).
A strong section on blacks in the American military contains a group of four documents concerning a soldier in the Continental Army who was killed during the Revolution and whose master was trying to collect his back pay, Newberry, Conn., 1781 ($2,500 to $3,500); several Civil War items, among them a rare albumen photograph of the Headquarters of the Corps D’Afriques at Fort Hudson, Louisiana, 1863 ($2,000 to $3,000); and a group of four panoramic photographs of black soldiers in World War I, 1919 ($2,000 to $3,000).
There are photographs of musicians such as Gjon Mili’s Billie Holiday at the microphone, 1943, printed before 1984 ($6,000 to $8,000), and Duke Ellington at the keyboard, 1943 ($4,000 to $6,000); and de Carava’s Coltrane and Elvin, 1960, printed circa 1981 ($9,000 to $12,000).
A section of music-related items includes a large and rich archive of the McAdoo Jubilee Singers including many early photographs, documents and ephemera, chronicling the group’s tours in South Africa and Australia, 1886-1930s ($6,000 to $8,000); a Time magazine cover from Feb. 28, 1964, bearing a portrait of Thelonius Monk, inscribed and signed by him ($1,500 to $2,000); and a group of 13 letters from Nina Simone to a male friend, filled with personally revealing content, Europe, 1977-1998 ($4,000 to $6,000).
There are two scarce and desirable film posters in the auction. One is for Bill Pickett, The Bull-Dogger, Norman Films, 1923 ($5,000 to $7,500), and the other is a three-sheet poster in German, Josefine Baker in Ein Rutscher Nach Paris, showing the leggy performer decked out in pink plumage, Vienna, circa 1927 ($10,000 to $15,000).
The section on literature ranges from Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, a first edition of the first published book of poetry authored by an African American, and the first published book by an African-American woman, London, 1773 ($20,000 to $30,000), and Joseph J. Walters, Guanya Pau, A Story of an African Princess, the first novel in English by an African author, first edition, Cleveland, 1891 ($4,000 to $6,000); to an autograph manuscript of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem, “Plantation Portrait,” circa 1910 ($3,000 to $5,000), and a group of three issues of the Harlem Renaissance journal Survey Graphic, for March 1925, November 1940 and January 1947 ($1,000 to $1,500).
Rounding out the sale are sections on art and illustrated books, business, religion, sports, and more.
The auction will take place on Thursday, Feb. 26 in two sessions. The first will begin at 10:30 a.m., the second at 2:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.swanngalleries.com.
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