Published: October 11, 2022
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries
NEW YORK CITY – The highlight of Swann Auction Galleries’ September 29 Americana auction was a large archive of family papers of Gideon Welles, who served as secretary of the Navy through the Civil War. The extensive archive of Welles’ personal and family papers comprise more than 1,000 items in six boxes, including his letters to his son regarding the Lincoln assassination and Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, four of his prewar diaries and more. Estimated $60/90,000, the historical trove realized $281,000 and sold to the trade.
The sale total was $960,708; sell-through rate was 88 percent and there were 304 registered bidders. Swann specialist Rick Stattler noted that the archive was the highest price achieved for an archive at Swann.
Welles was born and raised in Glastonbury, Conn., where he spent most of his life. He was an early graduate of what became Norwich University in Vermont, and returned to Connecticut to practice law, edit a newspaper and serve in the state legislature. His highest profile position before the Civil War was as chief of the bureau of provisions and clothing for the Navy during the period of the Mexican-American War. He opposed slavery and became an early member of the new Republican Party in 1854.
The first lot across the block was George Catlin’s North American Indian: portfolio, 25 hand-colored lithographs, a first edition, first issue, which sold for $25,000. The catalog notes that after creating his most important paintings in the American West in the early 1830s, Catlin had been giving public lectures on his paintings in Great Britain from 1841 onward, sometimes with a group of American Indians in what was essentially one of the first Wild West shows. For this seminal portfolio of large-format lithographs, he selected what he believed were the 25 most popular images from his shows.
In addition to the Gideon Welles material discussed above, the sale’s notable lots were rife with Civil War history. Bid to $18,750 was the first printing of the first act of secession in the form of the Charleston Mercury Extra…The Union is Dissolved! The letterpress broadside was printed in Charleston, S.C., on December 20, 1860, just 15 minutes after the final vote, essentially announcing the birth of the Confederacy and beginning of the Civil War. The printers were well aware of the significance of the news, emphasizing “The Union Is Dissolved” in large block letters.
From the war’s beginning to its endpoint, a sketchbook, the work of Private John Richard (1831-1889), a well-known soldier/artist, during the closing months of the war, brought $16,250. Richard was recovering from wounds suffered at Antietam but apparently had freedom to travel, as the volume includes views of Washington, Alexandria, Baltimore, Annapolis, Hampton Roads, Appomattox and Mount Vernon. Along with the Union base at City Point, Va., (a major supply hub and site of Depot Field Hospital), there are depictions of naval steamships as well as forts, hospitals and headquarters. In one sketch, a group of Black soldiers roll barrels in front of the US Government Bakery.
Fetching $15,000, two and a half times its high estimate, was a large archive of Lt. Palmer Judkins of the 60th Indiana Volunteers, at Vicksburg and beyond, which would be of interest to anyone studying the Siege of Vicksburg, Ind., in the Civil War or Quakers in the military. There were approximately 500 items in one box, and the archive included personal letters, diary entries, regimental papers, ephemera and a large postwar (1902) oil portrait of the soldier by prominent Cincinnati artist Charles T. Webber (1825-1911). Judkins (1842-1900) came from a Quaker family in Cincinnati, Ohio, and enlisted in the 60th Indiana Infantry in February 1862. In August 1862 he became a quartermaster sergeant, in November a sergeant major, and then in January 1864 a lieutenant and regimental quartermaster. After the war, he was a physician in Cincinnati.
A diary of a Maine transplant to Savannah, Edward William Drummond (1838-1876), captured at Fort Pulaski and imprisoned in New York, comprised 164 pages and realized $9,375. Drummond was born and raised in Winslow, Maine. In 1859 he moved to Savannah, Ga., where he worked as a bookkeeper and soon married a local girl. When secession came, he had to make a difficult decision. He sided with his wife’s family and his adopted city and joined the Chatham Artillery company as a sergeant in the Confederate service in August 1861. The company was stationed at Fort Pulaski, which guarded Savannah and was an early target for a federal offensive.
Bidders vied for a scrapbook kept by Abraham Jonas, an early Jewish settler of Quincy, Ill., who had sons fighting on both sides, served in the Illinois legislature and became a good friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. Clippings, manuscripts and ephemera, mounted to 63 scrapbook leaves, covered a period from 1860 to 1863. It found a buyer for $9,375.
Baltimore, Md., was rocked by rioting on April 19, 1861, when federal regiments were mobbed by protesters promoting secession. Four soldiers and 12 civilians died that day. In response, a secessionist recruitment broadside taking the side of the rioters declared the secession of Maryland to be a settled issue and urged the city’s rebels to report for enlistment. “People of Baltimore!” 17¾ by 12¾ inches, letterpress and with a small wood engraving of Liberty went out at $9,375.
Beyond the highly sought-after Civil War material, another of the sale’s strengths was in historical documents and social culture pertaining to Mexico.
Selling for more than twice its high estimate at $20,000 was a first edition of the first Spanish-Nahuatl dictionary by Alonso de Molina (1513-79), Aquí comiença un vocabulario en la lengua Castellana y Mexicana. De Molina learned Nahuatl, the dominant Indigenous language of central Mexico, as a child in New Spain. He taught the language to the first Franciscan missionaries there and subsequently entered the Franciscan order. His dictionary went through many editions and is still influential today.
A bidder paid $11,250 for a Mexican compilation of key documents relating to Goliad and the Alamo, circa April 1836. The 15 key documents relate to the Texas Revolution, covering both the Goliad campaign and the siege of the Alamo. They include the March 20 instrument of surrender by General James Fannin at Goliad and the internal debate between President Santa Anna and General Urrea over the fate of the prisoners, which culminated in the Goliad Massacre. Also included is a Spanish translation of the last appeal for assistance by Alamo commander William Travis, dated March 3, 1836, which concludes “Victoria ó muerte!!” (Victory or Death).
On a lighter and more savory note, an early Mexican manuscript cookbook by María Antonia Martínez earned $9,375. Written in 1847, four years before the first printed Mexican cookbook, there are recipes for distinctively Mexican dishes, such as nogada, mole verde, “estofado megicano” and oaxaceño (stew with veal).
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
The next sale of Americana will be in the spring 2023. For information, 212-254-4710 or www.swanngalleries.com.
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