Swann’s Printed & Manuscript African Americana sale, which was the first live auction conducted since the auction house closed to the public in March and paused its schedule in the wake of COVID-19, featured rare books, photographs, posters, historic documents, archives, pamphlets, and brochures, as well as art-related ephemera, related to slavery, segregation, the Black Panther Party, and other categories.
The sale totaled $742,581 — far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of $455,900-$672,900 — and set 12 additional auction records.
The top-lot broadside advertising “$250 Reward! Ranaway [sic.] from the Subscriber” set the record for a broadside of this nature after realizing $37,500, almost four times more than the high estimate of $10,000. It was won by an institution. Swann said this runaway broadside is unusual for the fact that the fugitives were three young women, who fled together as a family. Also, the announcement is annotated with several manuscript corrections to better identify the sisters, ages 13, 20 and 25.
Another sale highlight was a 1968 red and white poster, “I Am a Man, Memphis,” that sold for $6,500 - almost 10 times more than its high estimate of $750 - and a record for the poster. This is an early dorm room poster of the protest poster originally designed for the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and also used during the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., during summer 1968.
Additional highlights included a 1933 Harlem Night Club Map by E. Simms Campbell published in the magazine, Manhattan: A Weekly for Wakeful New Yorkers, that sold for $27,500 (est: $10,000-$15,000) and was a record for this print; a 1968 Black Panthers-related poster by artist Emory Douglas, Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party, “Wherever death may surprise us, it will be welcome ...,” another record breaker that sold for $2,125 (est: $400-$600); an albumen photograph of a contraband family at Point Lookout taken by Lafayette V. Newell, circa 1863-65, that sold for $32,500 (estimate $1,000-$1,500); a 17th Year Afro-American’s Travel Guide from 1957 that realized $27,500 (estimate $800-$1,200); and six boxes containing the papers of comedian Nipsey Russell dating from 1929-2000, nearly doubled expectations, selling for $17,500.
“This was a strong auction regardless of the circumstances. The sale concluded with 90 percent of lots finding buyers, a record in this category at Swann, and a total of $744,112, well above high estimate. Institutions generally make a good showing in these African Americana auctions, but they did exceptionally well in this sale, picking up the top four lots, and a total of 11 of the top 20,” said Rick Stattler, Swann's Book Department director and Americana specialist.
“We are grateful for the confidence placed in us by our consignors, and for the patience of our community of collectors as we completely redesigned how we conduct our auctions. The results are nothing short of phenomenal, and a testament to Swann’s resilient and creative team,” Stattler said.
For more results, visit swanngalleries.com.