Published: June 28, 2022
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries
NEW YORK CITY – Bidders’ curiosity was whetted by a books and autographs sale at Swann Auction Galleries on June 16 that revealed a motherlode of historical gems. Significant material from world leaders, including a selection of more than 40 US presidential autographs from a diverse group of 20 presidents and first ladies, was on offer, led by an archive of more than 60 Woodrow Wilson letters written during World War II. Highlights of literature ran the gamut, from a first edition triple-volume set of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, 1847, to a signed, limited edition of The Nobel Lecture by Bob Dylan, 2017.
The auction total was $551,775; sell-through rate was 84 percent and Swann hosted about 400 registered bidders.
English writer Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), published under the pen name “Currer Bell” on October 16, 1847, by Smith, Elder & Co. of London, wrote a novel dealing with the formative years of the fictional Jane Eyre as she grows into adulthood and experiences love for Mr Rochester, the brooding master of Thornfield Hall. An immediate success with Victorian readers, the novel revolutionized prose fiction by being the first to focus on its protagonist’s moral and spiritual development through an intimate first-person narrative. At Swann Auction Galleries’ June 16 sale of books and autographs, the three-volume set sold for $23,750. The first edition was bound in full green pebbled morocco by Wood, covers with floral cornerpieces,
Two great Nobel Prize-winners in a photographic huddle comprised the second highest selling lot in the sale with Albert Einstein and Tagore Rabindranath representing physics meeting literature in a photograph signed by both men, which brought $20,000. The photograph was additionally dated by Einstein. The half-length 8-by-10-inch portrait by Martin Vos showing the two in conversation was signed in the image, above the relevant portrait. Additionally, it was signed by the photographer at lower right. In the summer of 1930, Einstein and Tagore met on two occasions to discuss the nature of truth. The content of their discussion is published in an appendix to Tagore’s Religion of Man, 1931.
Fetching the same amount was an archive of more than 60 letters written from the White House during World War I by President Woodrow Wilson. They were signed, nearly all as president, to the chairman of both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and later the US Shipping Board’s Edward N. Hurley. Mostly typed and with one autograph letter, they were primarily business topics, including accepting his resignation from the FTC, discussing candidates for the FTC or the Red Cross War Council or other organizations, arranging meetings, discussing issues relating to wartime commercial shipping – including a plot to destroy American and British ships – arranging for assistance to other countries during and after the war, etc.
Additional letters by Twentieth Century notables were sought-after. Two typed letters in German signed “A. Einstein” to aphorist Hans Margolius discussed views of Kant, Schiller and Spinoza on ethics and superstition. Dated October 5, 1950, they were bid to $16,250. The first letter encouraged Margolius to publish his manuscript because it would reward the bravery of confronting superstition, remarking that Spinoza showed that we can be whole if we have understanding, and, in a postscript, offering to return the manuscript. The second pointed out that Kant and Schiller discussed Margolius’ distinction between the ethical act and the emotional motive that leads to the act and opined that the emotional triggers of ethical action belong to psychology rather than ethics.
And a typed letter signed by Martin Luther King Jr to William A. Bennett Jr, American conservative politician and political commentator, contrasting the meaning of the term “dark skinned American,” as used in his own writings and speeches with the meaning of the “N” word as it has been used historically filled one page and was dated Atlanta, January 18, 1966. It went out at $15,000.
A clipped signature by George Washington, likely removed from a letter confirmed the continued popularity of material related to the Father of Our Country. Measuring just 1¼ by 3¼ inches, the undated signature realized $10,625.
Each finishing at $10,000 were a set of three volumes of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, or The Whale, illustrated profusely by Rockwell Kent, and an autograph letter signed by Henry David Thoreau. The Melville/Kent lot featured publisher’s silver-stamped black cloth over beveled boards and the original acetate dust jackets with parchment flaps. A limited edition, one of 1,000 unnumbered sets by the Lakeside Press, 1930, this presentation copy was inscribed by Kent “To / Eleanor Netten / by / Rockwell Kent [flourish beneath]” in pencil on the front free endpaper of the first volume.
The Thoreau letter was addressed to the publishers of Putnam’s Monthly, Dix & Edwards, acknowledging receipt of payment for an installment of “Cape Cod” and was dated Concord, 2 June 1855. “Your check on the Nassau Bank for forty dollars, in payment for part of ‘Cape Cod,’ has come safely to hand. Please accept my thanks for your promptness.” The book, Cape Cod, published posthumously in 1865, contains Thoreau’s observations during a number of excursions he made to Cape Cod between 1849 and 1856. It first appeared as a series of articles during the summer of 1855 in Putnam’s Monthly magazine.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. The firm’s next sale of books and manuscripts will be in the fall. For more information, 212-254-4710 or www.swanngalleries.com.
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