Published: May 1, 2007
Spirited bidding at Swann Galleries’ March 22, 2007, auction of printed and manuscript Americana yielded record prices for rare Mormon works, the Bible of the Revolution and an historic Judaic pamphlet.
Private collectors competed for a first edition of The Book of Mormon , originally owned by Denison Root, brother-in-law of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. The book was printed in Palmyra, N.Y., in 1830, and was signed by Root and by Orson Pratt, an early church apostle. Root’s inscription indicated the book was a gift from Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith’s brother. It sold to a private collector in the Northeastern United States for a record price of $180,000.
Also bringing a record price of $180,000 was a rare first edition of A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints , compiled by Emma Smith, Nauvoo, Ill., 1841. This early edition of the Mormon hymnal contains 303 songs, including ten of Mormon authorship appearing for the first time in print, and had not come up for auction in the last century. It was purchased by a Salt Lake City collector.
Another significant religious work was a first printing of the complete Bible in English in America, known as The Aitken Bible, two volumes, Philadelphia, 1781‸2. Often referred to as the “Bible of the Revolution,” it is believed that fewer than 100 copies have survived. This was the second to be offered at Swann in little over a year, and it brought a record $69,600, surpassing the previous record price of $52,900 achieved in February 2006.
A rare Judaica item also attracted collectors. One of only two known copies of Gershom Mendes Seixas’s “A Religious Discourse,” a sermon given on November 26, 1789 †the first Thanksgiving Day observance as proclaimed by President George Washington, brought a record $72,000. Seixas was the first American-born rabbi, and this sermon was given at Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in the United States, and what was at the time the only synagogue in New York.
The sale also featured iconic secular publications, including a matched set of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay’s The Federalist: A Collection of Essays , New York, 1788. Issued to garner support for the ratification of the Constitution, the first edition set sold for $120,000.
Other highlights concerned western expansion in the Nineteenth Century. A series of rare signed manuscript documents regarding the short-lived overland mail service known as the Pony Express provided new insight into the business partnerships of Alexander Majors, William H. Russell and William B. Waddell. Among these were the earliest extant agreement between Russell and Waddell, 1853, $8,400; an 1854 foundation partnership between Russell, Majors and Waddell, $14,400; and the 1858 contract covering the term in which the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company, parent company of the Pony Express, was formed, $15,600.
Also related to western expansion were a manuscript journal kept by James Aull, detailing the outfitting of traders during the early days on the Santa Fe Trail, Lexington, Mo., 1827′8, $14,400; Gunn’s New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines, lithographed folding pocket map, first edition, 1859, $9,600; and a lovely copy of Redpath and Hinton’s Hand-book to Kansas Territory and the Rocky Mountains’ Gold Region , New York, 1859, $10,200.
Of visual interest was a wonderful archive of approximately 100 chromolithographed proof labels for cigar boxes collected by artist Henry Plumb, including five original watercolor designs for labels by him, New York, principally late 1860s, $24,000; and Auguste Borget, Fragments d’un Voyage Autour du Mo nde, rare plate book including views of New York, South America, Hawaii, China and India, 1840s, $10,800.
Other auction highlights included James Madison’s copy of De la Félicité Publique , two volumes, first edition, Amsterdam, 1772, signed by Madison on each title page, $10,200; Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense Addressed to the Inhabitants of America, Norwich, Connecticut , 1776, $14,400; Thomas Jefferson’s Report of the Secretary of State, on the Subject of Establishing a Uniformity on the Weights, Measures and Coins of the United States, first edition, fourth and final issue, New York, 1790, $13,200; Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, first edition, New York, 1828, $14,400; and a photographically-illustrated manuscript travel journal kept by Sir William Clayton, covering a trip from London to New York and overland to California, 1871‷2, $18,000.
The sale concluded with nearly 500 Union and Confederate regimental histories from the Library of the Illinois Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) sold separately and in groups. Top-sellers included Kittrell J. Warren’s History of the Eleventh Georgia Vols, a scarce war-date confederate regimental, Richmond, 1863, $10,800; a first edition of Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 46 volumes, Kalamazoo, circa 1905, $3,120; and groups of histories from New York, $3,360; Ohio, $4,320; Pennsylvania, $3,120, and many other Union and Confederate states.
Prices reported include buyer’s premium. For information, www.swanngalleries.com or 212-254-4710.
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