At Swann: Important and Eclectic Americana on the 8th

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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As has become usual, spring is a great time for buying rare books and printed material at auction. If you’re a collector of Americana, look no further than April 8th at Swann Auction Galleries. Their sale of Printed & Manuscript Americana contains 321 lots covering a wide range of subjects: the American Revolution, Native Americans, the Civil War, and railroads are well-represented in the Americana portion (lots 1-285), and the sale concludes with 36 lots of Latin Americana and material from the Caribbean. Swann reserve prices have been historically modest to encourage bidding and the consistent outcome has been a 90% sell through rate—right near the top among all auction houses worldwide.  

Let’s take a look at some of the highlight items.

Lot 2 requires a particular niche collecting theme, but might appeal to more and more people going forward as drug and alcohol addiction become more and more mainstream thanks to headlines featuring recent victims Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger and others. The item in question is a pamphlet entitled “A.A.” and is the first pamphlet issued by the organization after it published its main volume the “Big Book.” The item is estimated at $400 – 600.

Native Americans are a popular subject of collecting, and lots 3 through 18 are a series of books, pamphlets and photographs dating from 1727 to 1934. Experience Mayhew’s Indian Converts: or, Some Account of the Lives and Dying Speeches of a Considerable Number of the Christianized Indians of Martha’s Vineyar [lot 8, $2,500 – 3,500], published in London, 1727, is “unprecedented in scope and content… the most extensive information we have about any Algonquian community during the early English colonial period,” according to Laura Leibman in her introduction to the 2008 edition. Of the photographs for sale, Herman Heyn’s Kills on Horseback, Ogallala Sioux [lot 17, $800 – 1,200], a hand-colored platinum print jumps off the page in contrast to the traditional black and white photography. The Sioux in question, Kills on Horseback, was brother-in-law to the well-known chief Spotted Tail and his image is magnificent.

For collectors of New York ephemera a particular pair of photographs [lot 34, $1,000 – 1,500] might pique interest. The subject in question is an early test flight of Glenn H. Curtiss’ Flying Boat. Curtiss was an aviation pioneer, and the model shown would become the first hydroplane in wide production. The images depict the plane just before flight and just after rising from the water.  An Atlas of the State of New York [lot 194, $3,000 – 4,000], printed in New York in 1829, is also for sale and features engraved hand-colored engraved maps. It is the second engraved atlas of a single state, printed four-years after Robert Mills’ South Carolina atlas.

Lots 48 through 54 are each an individual lithographer letter sheet, printed in San Francisco in 1851 and 1852, and depict life during the California Gold Rush. While they would probably fit best when kept together, the seven lots are each for sale with variable estimates ranging from $800 – 1,200 to $1,200 – 1,800.   These letter-sheets are highly desirable.

Among the most important items for sale is a particular signed document. An Act Establishing a Mint, and Regulating the Coins of the United States [lot 144, $50,000 – 75,000] is signed by Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State in 1792. This is the first printing of the Coinage Act, which defined the American currency system and established the dollar as legal tender. Only two copies are known at institutions in ESTC and OCLC, neither of which is signed.  According to Swann “No complete signed copy has been seen at auction since 1917, and this copy may be the only complete signed copy in existence.” 

The subjects and authors of the auction’s lots are presented alphabetically, and with such a wide-range of Americana, collectors will not be disappointed by what they find nor will they lament the estimates.  But be prepared to bid higher.  This is why these sales almost always sell a high percentage of their lots.   The estimates are low.

For bidders whose interests lean more toward Astronomy and Science there is a Swann sale on the 3rdAstronomy & Science Books from the Library of Martin C. Gutzwille.  For collectors of photography there is a sale on the 17th:  The Vernacular Eye: Photographic Albums, Snapshots & Objects will be of interest.

 

For the Americana sale on the 8th here is the link.