Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Hindman Auctions
CINCINNATI, OHIO – Hindman’s February 23 African Americana live auction offered a diverse selection of photographs, books, manuscripts, imprints, newspapers, posters and other ephemera dating from the Eighteenth through the Twentieth Century. Themes represented slavery and abolition, war, civil rights, politics, music, art, literature and sports.
The top lot of the sale was a carte de visite (CDV) of Sojourner Truth, which rose from a $2/4,000 estimate to sell for $13,750, a record price, to a private collector. In the uncredited CDV from 1864, Truth appears seated at a table with flowers, engaged in a knitting project. Measuring 2¼ by 3-3/8 inches, the CDV on cardstock mount recto bore the printed caption, “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance. / Sojourner Truth.”
Sojourner Truth, an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist, was born into slavery in Swartekill, N.Y., but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. She went to court to recover her son in 1828 and became the first Black woman to win such a case against a white man. With her “Ain’t I a Woman?” declaration at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, she delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history and became an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance and civil and women’s rights in the Nineteenth Century.
The CDV came with a group of approximately 40 CDVs, an unmounted CDV-sized albumen photograph, three tintypes, and four gem-sized tintypes on mounts. Most of the images were unidentified and in varying conditions but generally good. The lot’s consignor related that the Sojourner Truth CDV was originally housed in an accompanying CDV album with other images.
This sale brought together property from several important collections and estates. Hindman’s senior specialist for American historic ephemera and photography Katie Horstman said the sale totaled $286,844 with a 92 percent sell-through rate and more than 500 registered bidders. “We did have institutional interest in the auction, with several lots being purchased by prominent institutions,” said Horstman.
Extending the themes of slavery and abolition, a CDV of an enslaved African American “Gordon” displaying his scars, circa 1863, more than tripled its high estimate to bring $12,500. The 2-1/8-by-3¼-inch CDV on cardstock mount was believed to be a period albumen copy. It bore a pencil inscription to verso: “A Slave of Baton Rouge Louisiana whipped for a trifling offense. J.H. Prater phot. Augusta, Mich.” The image is disturbing, showing the back and profile of a young enslaved African American male who was bull-whipped after being captured while trying to escape, which left his back horribly scarred. It was uncredited but known to have been taken by McPherson & Oliver, Baton Rouge, La., in April 1863. Known only as Gordon, the photo’s subject made it across Union lines in 1863, and Northern abolitionists had this photograph taken and distributed to publicize the horrors of slavery. When this image was reproduced in Harper’s, it bore the caption “Gordon Under Medical Inspection.”
Realizing $10,000, more than three times the high expectation, was a Civil War-era tintype of an armed African American cavalryman. The 2½-by-3-7/8-inch tintype was housed under mat, glass and preserver with no case. It was a studio portrait of an African American private wearing a regulation cavalry shell jacket trimmed in yellow and carrying an M1860 light cavalry saber. The subject wore a kepi with brass insignia and stood before a unique, painted canvas backdrop featuring a row of military tents along the left side. Catalog notes relate that six regiments of African American cavalry were raised during the war, including the 1st at Camp Hamilton, Va.; the 2nd at Fort Monroe, Va.; the 3rd at Vicksburg from the 1st Mississippi Cavalry (African descent); the 4th from the 1st Corps d’Afrique Cavalry at New Orleans, La.; and the 5th and the 6th at Camp Nelson, Ky.
In addition to these early images, the sale offered several extensive manuscript archives. One such collection documented the experiences of the Rice family of Roanoke, Va., during the Great Depression and World Wars I and II. Spanning from circa 1892 to the 1950s were approximately 400 items, including letters, documents and other pieces of ephemera all relating to Nannie Mae Rice Banks (1895-2000), the matriarch of a close-knit African American family living in the American South. The archive was bid to $9,375.
Early photography with slavery and abolition themes continued with a ninth plate ambrotype of an enslaved African American girl with period identification, which earned $8,125. She is shown holding onto a chair next to her with one hand and looking intently into the camera, her cheeks lightly tinted pink. The image was accompanied by a manuscript document signed “John W. Freeman,” stating, “Know all men by these presents that I John Freman [sic] of Robertson & state of Tenn have bargained sold & delivered to TJ Waggoner of the county of Davidson & state of Tenn a negro girl named Lucy 9 years old for the sum of six hundred and forty seven dollar [sic] the receipt where of is here by acknowledged. I warant [sic] and defend the the [sic] title of sd negro agains [sic] all other claims but do not warant [sic] the soundness of sd negro given under my hand and seal this the 5 of Feb 1859 / John W. Freeman Seal.” A later pencil inscription on folded verso reads, “Oct, 5th, 1901 / Mollie / Found this paper and old picture of the young colored slave girl while back at the old home place in a chest of memories of my grandmother’s / Haze[?].”
Catalog notes state that slave schedules for the year 1860 return one record of a T.J. Wagoner (probably Thomas Jefferson) of Davidson County, Tenn., an enslaver of 11 individuals as of 30 June 1860, including an 11-year-old Black girl. As is typical, her name is not recorded. While the 1860 census lists Wagoner as a “merchant” with personal property valued at $3,500, it’s assumed that much of this wealth was from enslaved humans.
The famous African American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was represented in the sale by a CDV by Samuel Montague Fassett taken in late February 1864, which went out at $7,500. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, Douglass became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writing. Here in this 2-1/8-by-3½-inch image, Douglass is pictured wearing a dark, high-necked waistcoat and jacket looking at the camera with a piercing gaze, his hair beginning to grey.
A 10-by-8-inch 1833 letterpress broadside on cardstock, Nashville, Tenn., offered a $20 reward for “…a Negro boy, named BOB, about 19 years of age… about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high…. It is probable that he will attempt to make his way back to the neighbourhood of Petersburg Va., where I purchased him… We will give the above reward for securing the said Negro in Jail, so that we get him again.” Estimated $2,5/3,500, the broadside left the gallery at $6,875.
In the occupational category, a Pullman Porter uniform jacket and vest, circa early to mid-1900s garnered an above-estimate $5,625. In heavy, wool-like material, the jacket retained six metal buttons stamped “Pullman.” Though African American men working as Pullman Porters often faced rampant discrimination, difficult working conditions and received low pay, the position nonetheless still maintained an aura of prestige within the African American community. This was exemplified, in part, by the porter’s uniform, but came at a steep cost. An April 1915 government inquiry led by Chairman Frank P. Walsh of the Federal Industrial Commission found that porters were typically paid $27.50 a month wages but were required to purchase their uniforms exclusively at Marshall Fields & Company at the cost of $24.50 whenever they needed a new uniform.
“The Sojourner Truth CDV achieved a record price at auction of $13,750, which was a wonderful surprise,” said Horstman after the sale. “The image was in very fine condition and was accompanied by the original album in which it was found. The $5,625 price for the Pullman Porter coat, vest and hanger was also unexpected considering that previous examples sold at auction for anywhere from $100 up to $300. The corresponding catalog description shed interesting light on the Pullman Porter position and the uniform the porters were required to purchase, which I believe helped generate noteworthy interest in the uniform.”
Hindman’s next sale of African Americana will be in February 2023.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.hindmanauctions.com or 513-871-1670.