Published: March 31, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. — An album containing a newly discovered photo of Harriet Tubman was sold at Swann Galleries on March 30 for a total of $161,000.
The winning bidder was Manhattan-based Lion Heart Autographs, which bid a hammer price of $130,000 for the photo and an additional $31,000 buyer’s fee.
The album was expected to fetch $20/30,000.
Lion Heart bought the photo on behalf of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Library of Congress, which jointly acquired the album of 44 rare photographs that also included the only known photograph of John Willis Menard, the first African American man elected to the US Congress.
The collaboration ensures these pieces of American history will be accessible to the public in perpetuity.
“It is a distinct honor to have these photographs that tell an important part of America’s history,” said Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “We are pleased and humbled to work with the Library of Congress to ensure that this rare and significant collection will be preserved and made accessible to the American public.”
“To have a new glimpse of such key figures in American history is rare indeed,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “Through this extraordinary collaboration, these images will be forever part of our shared heritage and will be a source of inspiration for many generations to come.”
The images are part of the photo album of Emily Howland (1827–1929), a Quaker school teacher who taught at Camp Todd, the Freedman’s School in Arlington, Va. The album contains 44 images taken circa 1860s, including the Tubman and Menard images, as well as a print of a more commonly known Tubman portrait taken later in life, and images of Charles Sumner, Lydia Maria Child, Samuel Ely, William Ellery Channing, Colonel C.W. Folsom and Charles Dickens.
The photo of Tubman, one of two in the Civil War-period carte-de-visite album, was the cover lot for Swann’s printed and manuscript African Americana sale. The previously unrecorded photograph of abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman was part of the carte-de-visite album, which features 48 photographs of contemporary political and abolitionist figures, one being the only known photograph of the first African American elected to Congress, John Willis Menard. The photo depicts Tubman in the late 1860s, earlier than most images of the abolitionist.
Specialist Wyatt Houston Day discovered the photograph of Tubman in the album, compiled by Quaker abolitionist Emily Howland in the 1860s. Of the album’s 48 photographs, 44 were cartes-de-visite of noted abolitionists, politicians and friends of Howland.
The sale also featured “the strongest selection of Civil Rights material we’ve ever offered,” according to Day. An archive of documents relating to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, including checks endorsed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., realized $18,750.
The overall printed and manuscript African Americana exceeded $1 million for the first time in the department’s more than 20-year history, notching yet another milestone for Swann which celebrated its 75th anniversary on March 27.
Watch for a complete report on the sale, as well the firm’s 75th anniversary celebration in an upcoming issue.
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