Published: October 12, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photographs Courtesy Swann Galleries
NEW YORK CITY – Printed and manuscript Americana held forth at Swann Galleries on September 30, filling the space with manuscript diaries, religious tracts, periodicals, historical prints and more. The sale totaled $938,298, offering 349 lots, 309 of which sold for an 89 percent sell-through rate by lot.
The top spot in the sale went to a first edition of The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon, upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi. The copy, which provenance assigned to an early (but probably not original) owner named Nicholas Summerbell (1816-1889), sold for $112,500, exceeding its $75,000 high estimate and posting a record for the book. Summerbell signed the front flyleaf and title page and also added the date 1858. He was born in Peekskill, N.Y., was a Protestant clergyman in Cincinnati by 1850, and in 1858 became the founding president of Union Christian College in Meron, Ind. This first edition of the scripture of the Mormon church, released just days before the official establishment of the church on April 6, 1830, was the only edition listing Joseph Smith as the “author and proprietor” rather than as the translator, and the only edition with his two-page preface.
Not far behind from the early days of America was a set of four 1778 ink and watercolor drawings by St John Honeywood (1763-1798), depicting the Battles of Lexington and Concord, after the famous engravings by Doolittle This lot was also carried a high estimate of $75,000, but outperformed at $100,000. The watercolors were created early in the Revolution by Honeywood, then a boy of about 14 years old, who had twin obsessions with art and the patriot cause. He was raised in Leicester, Mass., about 32 miles west of Concord. His father was a physician who had died at Ticonderoga in 1776, leaving him an orphan to be raised by his aunt in Leicester. Sent off to study at Yale College in New Haven, Conn., hometown of the engraver Amos Doolittle. Honeywood may not have been able to readily afford Doolittle’s recently published views of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, but as an aspiring artist he may have secured access to them and made these copies for his own edification. The drawings originally came from New York and Vermont Americana collector Hall Park McCullough (1872-1966), who exhibited them at the Bennington Museum in April 1975. They were sold to the consignor at a Keno auction in 2010.
A rarity of Mexican literature, a complete set of the collected works of Juana Ines de la Cruz, was bid to $50,000. De la Cruz (1648-1695) was a Mexican nun at the San Jeronimo Convent who, against all odds, became a prolific and well-regarded poet. Her prominence as an intellectual began to bring her in conflict with the church leadership after 1690. Two volumes of her collected works were published in 1689 and 1692 (a posthumous volume followed in 1700) which contain virtually all that remains of her writings. In 1693 and 1694, she ceased writing, was forced to sell her extensive book collection, publicly repented and was restricted to charity work among the poor. In 1695, while tending to her fellow sisters during an epidemic, she became fatally ill. Her reputation has only grown over the centuries. She now ranks among the most enduring literary figures of colonial Mexico and a proto-feminist icon. Mexican imprints of note included a rare first Mexican edition of the Jesuit manual and the sole edition of the rule and constitution of the nunnery of the Hieronymites in Puebla, as approved and promulgated by Bishop Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz, each of which finished at $6,750.
There was much more in the sale relating to the American Revolutionary War. Fetching $50,000 against a $10/15,000 estimate was a 1774 hand colored mezzotint, “Bostonian’s Paying the Excise Man, or Tarring & Feathering,” which depicts a scene that occurred a month after the Boston Tea Party. The scene relates to Loyalist customs official John Malcolm who threatened to beat a small boy with a cane. When local patriot George Hewes protested, Malcolm caned him in the forehead and knocked him unconscious. That night a mob dragged Malcolm from his home, stripped him to the waist, tarred and feathered him, threatened to hang him and forced him to drink repeated toasts of tea to the king and queen. This print shows a noose hanging from a “Liberty Tree” with the Stamp Act posted upside down. In the background, boxes of tea are being dumped from a ship in the background — believed to be the earliest image of the Boston Tea Party.
Another highlight was a rare diary from a Connecticut Revolutionary War officer who was imprisoned by the British in an infamous Manhattan sugarhouse in 1777, which realized $25,000, beating a high expectation of $18,000. No other known diaries of its kind have been found at auction, and this one was written on the rear pages of a slim memorandum book that the officer had with him upon his capture. Worn and stained but almost entirely legible, it bears testament to harsh conditions.
The same price was achieved for a letterbook of a New York iron merchant, comprising 82 manuscript pages, including retained copies of 77 letters and eight detailed merchandise orders. In a prelude to the American Revolution, these pages, titled “America Must in a Short Time be the Habitation of Bankrupts, Beggars & Slaves,” touch on the dominant issue of the day: organized American resistance to British taxation.
As described in the catalog for the sale, Garret Abeel (1734-1799) and his brother-in-law Evart Byvanck (1744-1805) began a successful partnership as Manhattan iron merchants in 1765. The letterbook contained retained drafts for much of their correspondence through 1771, reflecting a tumultuous period that led to the American Revolution. Most of the letters are to the firm’s British suppliers of finished metal goods,. Abeel and Byvanck often made their orders contingent upon repeal of the Stamp Act or some other Parliamentary action and pressured their wealthy suppliers to use their clout to restore trade.
Fetching $9,375 was a group of 46 manuscript pages by prisoner Rufus Lincoln (1751-1838), a Massachusetts officer who was serving as a lieutenant in the 14th Massachusetts Regiment when captured near Schuylkill, N.Y., in December 1777. He was imprisoned in British-held New York, where he was paroled in Flatlands, Brooklyn, by March 1779. The two commonplace books written by Lincoln while on parole in Flatlands contain a mix of essays and verse that he copied from books and periodicals, and interspersed are a few copies of important documents relating to the Revolution, particularly high-level correspondence on the negotiations for prisoner exchanges.
A bound volume of the Pennsylvania Herald, featuring a very early printing of the United States Constitution and more, went out at $30,000. In it were 265 newspaper issues. The great subject of national interest covered in this volume was the Constitutional Convention, which ran in Philadelphia from May to September 1787. The May 30 issue reports that the convention’s delegates have named George Washington as their leader, and added “the decisive effect it must have upon the peace and prosperity of America, though everything should certainly be given to prudence and deliberation, not a moment can be spared to useless forms or unprofitable controversy.” The paper’s editor, Alexander Dallas, apparently had a source from within the rather secretive proceedings. In reply to rumors that the convention was setting up a new monarchy, his source explained that “tho we cannot, affirmatively, tell you what we are doing; we can, negatively, tell you what we are not doing – we never once thought of a king.”
Another troubled period in the early American experience is revealed in a section of material relating to the American Indian. Featured was an archive of the prominent Cherokee merchant Joshua Ross from 1848 to 1918, which commanded $20,080 against a $5/7,500 estimate. Comprising 176 letters, almost all addressed to Ross, the archive covered a critical period in Cherokee history, from 1898 to 1906, when the federal government aggressively dismantled the Cherokee Nation’s independent government and transformed the Indian Territory into the new state of Oklahoma. Ross (1833-1924) of Muscogee, Indian Territory, was a nephew of longtime Cherokee principal chief John Ross (1790-1866) and became a prominent leader and shopkeeper.
From the Civil War was Ulysses S. Grant’s General Orders, No. 108, dated June 2, 1865 – his farewell order to the troops. It realized $9,375. Comprising a single printed page, 7¼ by 5 inches, it was signed in type by Grant as lieutenant general and signed in manuscript by Captain George B. Halsted as assistant adjutant general. In it Grant eloquently bid farewell to “the Soldiers of the Armies of the United States,” explicitly naming slavery as the root cause of the war.
Latin American material included a 1646 first edition of Alonso de Ovalle’s Historica relacion del reyno de Chile at $15,600 and a richly illustrated guide to Cuba’s maritime wildlife: fish, crustaceans, turtles and more for $9,375.
Specialist Rick Stattler noted, “Seeing some of our old regular customers during the first public preview back for Americana felt normal in the best possible way. That carried through into the auction results with vigorous bidding from customers both old and new. Rare and important material from the American Revolution still finds an enthusiastic audience. The results were strong across all categories, though, from children’s books to the American West.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.swanngalleries.com or 212-254-4710.
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