NEW YORK — An October 1864 letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant was the star of Swann Galleries’ April 23 autograph auction, reaching $57,600. In the letter, Lee proposed a prisoner-of-war exchange in a man-for-man deal, but ultimately withdrew his offer, as he refused to include black soldiers in the exchange.
The auction had an 85 percent sell-through rate and a total that landed squarely between the high and low estimates for the entire auction. Marco Tomaschett, Autographs Cataloger, said, “This sale demonstrated that autographs retain value despite economic shifts. The prices and sell-through rate are comparable to previous auctions that took place in the best of economic climates.”
Among many examples of autographs by U.S. presidents were a George Washington franking signature, “G:Washington,” on a portion of an address leaf to “Hon Doct’r Franklin” in Philadelphia, $12,000; an autograph letter by Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, to William Short, American Charge d’Affaires to France, Philadelphia, 1791, $13,200; and an ALS from Theodore Roosevelt to a Harvard classmate, discussing his New York State Assembly nomination, and expressing doubts about his ability to succeed in politics, New York, circa 1881, $16,800.
A notorious 20th-century artifact was a complete copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune from Nov. 3, 1948, with the premature headline “Dewey Defeats Truman,” signed by both presidential candidates, and inscribed by the winner, “Truman hasn’t found it out,” $10,200.
Autographs of other notable 20th century figures included “Annie Oakley, A Brief Sketch of Her Career and Notes on Shooting,” 1913, signed by the sharpshooting superstar, $4,320, against an estimate of $700 to $1,000; a photograph of Thomas Edison and his wife, that he inscribed, “To our darling daughter Madeleine, Father and Mother,” $1,560; an autograph letter signed by Sigmund Freud, in German, providing a glowing reference for his student Theodor Reik, Vienna, 1933, $9,600; and a typed letter signed from Albert Einstein to Reik, in German, commenting on books Reik had sent him, Princeton, 6 January 1941, $4,560.
Authors were represented by an autograph letter signed from Herman Melville to the Secretary of the American Legation at London, requesting that he deliver a manuscript to his publisher, 1849, $15,600; a collection of more than 50 letters to D.H. Lawrence biographer Harry T. Moore, from members of Lawrence’s family, and others, 1944-70s, $3,840; and a typed letter signed, with holograph corrections, from Thomas Pynchon to Charles Hollander refusing permission to publish some of his early stories, 1981, $14,400.
Autographs from noted artists and musicians included an early libretto of “Parsifal: Ein Bühnenweihfestspiel,” signed and inscribed by Richard Wagner, January 1, 1878, $5,520; an autograph letter signed by Grandma Moses, remarking on the increasing popularity of her work, Eagle Bridge, New York, 1940, $2,880; and a signed portrait photograph of Marcel Duchamp, circa 1964, $3,360. All prices include buyer’s premium. For more information about Swann Galleries or upcoming auctions, visit www.swanngalleries.com.