Swann: A Challenging Sale on March 22nd.
Lots 18 and 220, heaven and hell
By Bruce McKinney
Swann is offering, as they have on several occasions in recent years, a broad selection of collectible printed and manuscript Americana that is, for the most part, interesting but not exceptional. That said, the selection is both broad and intense. Collectors who confine their enthusiasm to lots that cost less than $1,500 will find in this sale many items to consider. This is not a selection of high points. Rather it is generally the interesting grit that every collector pursues when the estimates makes sense. For those willing to do their homework it's a great sale. Everyone will find something to consider.
Think of this sale as a smorgasbord with lots of steak if not fillet mignon. Here is a partial list of what's included: early almanac[k]s [lots 3-10, 254 and 331], 14 early bibles including a copy of the Aitken Bible [17-30], 2 items on the Burr conspiracy [43-44], a very interesting early catalogue of Matthew Carey's books [lot 50], a broadside announcing Lee's surrender , another broadside of Lincoln's 1863 Amnesty Proclamation , three lots on Captain Cook [70-72], 2 on Custer [77-78], and a copy of Doughty's "The Cabinet of Natural History." All this gets us only to lot 84. There is more.
Lot 91 is an early silk worm piece for those who collect material about the conversion of bug excretions into cash. Early American imprints block out the sun from lot 89 to 110. Benjamin Franklin is marginally included with lots 114 to 116. First editions of the two volumes of the Federalist [lot 126] are offered with an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. Indians are given their due in lots 140-144 including a copy of Adair that is both important and common enough to come up at auction frequently and to be worth bidding on when it does. Jefferson gets his requisite 5 items, none of them over-powering but you probably aren't going to be bidding on a first of "Notes on the State of Virginia" when it comes up anyway.
Americana-Judiaca is very collectible and lots 152 to 156 fill this niche. Mormons will be challenged as several of the rarest, most expensive items relate to this faith. Will buying them guarantee you a place inside the gates of heaven? We can't say. To us book collecting is ecumenical but for many a manifestation of personal faith. Certainly religious material is the most collected category, if not by dedicated collectors so much as by the personally connected. "This was my great Grand-Dad's Bible." For many this is the most emotionally satisfying type of collecting.
Agnostics and atheists will consider lot 220, "Guide to New Orleans Prostitutes." Don't plan on using it for its most practical purpose as it's the 1911-12 edition and the youngest ladies mentioned are today at least 115.
For those who are building "French Connection" collections there is a Poughkeepsie item a la "Picking your toes in Poughkeepsie." It's a Willets map of New York State that predates the 1971 movie by almost by one hundred and sixty-six years . It was probably printed around 1815 and is estimated at $3,000 to $4,000.
Swann: A Challenging Sale on March 22nd.
Lot 317: a hundred cigar box labels.
Advocates of the romantic view of the American west have a rare opportunity to acquire an extensive collection of Pony Express material [lots 239-247]. This is the well remembered but short-lived delivery system that demonstrated the benefits of moving messages and information across the west. In its brief career, forever immortalized in movies, it is a metaphor for western history, achieving an importance in the rear-view mirror of history it did not have in life. Winning these nine lots may take determination. The estimates seem low and interest may be high.
For those with a taste for the American Revolution lots 256 to 287 provide ample opportunities to convert interest into bids. In particular there are two versions of Common Sense, a publication that is anything but common. It was supposedly the most common political publication of its time but all evidence confirms the falseness of such claims. Like the complaints the FCC said it received about Janice Jackson's Super Bowl boob display that turned out to be barely a 100 calls, exaggerated claims can be difficult to rebut. Common Sense was never common though it suited pundits to say it was. Buy it if you can. Exaggeration then, as now, misleads the innocent.
For those who revel in ancient magazines Swann has prepared a tender trap. The Pennsylvania Magazine is both a rare and desirable revolutionary war era publication that, in this sale, is seated between many caveats that only the cognoscenti will really understand.
Perhaps the most widely collected area of American history is the Civil War. For these collectors Swanns offers lots 343 to 420, a deep, deep group of Regimental Histories. Condition varies and the material is organized in many cases to appeal more to dealers than collectors. Nevertheless it is a fascinating group of interest to hundreds if not thousands whose passion is the War Between the States.
For the zany who are looking to add to their collection of cigar box labels there is lot 317. Swann offers an even 100 examples in a category that comes up once every twenty years. If you have been waiting now is the time to refinance your house and cash in your life insurance. Your ship is arriving but won't be in port for long.
Finally there are bibliographies. If you really want to have a copy of the Streeter auctions look at lot 310, for a copy of Wagner's Cartography lot 327, for Wheat's Mapping of the Transmississippi West lot 335, for Wynne's Private Libraries of New York lot 338, for an early catalogue of books in the Yale Library lot 341, a copy of H. V. Jones Adventures in Americana [the first 2 vols] lot 151, and for a first edition of the first bibliography of America, White Kennett's Bibliothecae Americanae Primordia, lot 161.
To do well at this sale you'll have to study both condition and auction history. There is plenty of material and many questions to ask. Prepare well and you'll do well, whether or not you win any of the lots.