Published: June 29, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries
NEW YORK CITY – Americana and autographs by world leaders, revolutionaries, suffragists, astronauts, inventors, writers, artists and others were presented alongside literature and art, press and illustrated books at Swann Auction Galleries June 17 sale of fine books and autographs. The sale totaled $404,616 with an 84 percent sell-through rate. Registered bidders numbered 319.
The top lot in the auction was a large octavo volume of James Joyce’s Ulysses, published in London in 1936. It was number four from a deluxe limited issue printing of just 100 copies signed by Joyce from a total edition of 1,000. The original vellum-over-board cover featured a gilt Homeric bow design after Eric Gill on both the front and back covers. It shot to $21,250 from a $15/20,000 estimate, selling to the trade.
One of America’s most beloved poets, Robert Frost (1874-1963), was represented by Collected Poems, the author’s presentation copy, signed twice by Frost with the entirety of “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by him in a holograph, New York, 1930. Selling for $20,000 to a private collector and in the publisher’s gilt-stamped brown cloth, the first edition was inscribed on the front flyleaf “For Unade and Howard and / Elizabeth Seckerson / from their guest friend / Robert Frost / March 15 1939 / Storrs.” Catalog notes observe that the “guest friend” mention is a nod to Frost’s several short stays at the Seckerson’s home when in Storrs to give a reading. Howard Seckerson started the English department at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and his wife Unade Seckerson (née Barnes) was the daughter of Djuna Barnes’ half-brother Duane.
“The sale saw a strong results in both categories,” commented Marco Tomaschett, autographs specialist. “The sell-through of autographs by musicians continues to be a standout corner of the market, especially for those interested in classical music.”
“The high-point of the fine books portion was offering one of the best-known poems – by one of the best-known American poets of the Twentieth Century – in manuscript in its entirety. Seeing the work achieve such a high price should perhaps not be surprising, given its status as a unique example of canonical importance,” noted John D. Larson, literature and art books specialist for the house, on the sale of Robert Frost’s Collected Poems with “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” handwritten by Frost in the copy.
In the spring of 1849, Abraham Lincoln was a lame-duck freshman in the House of Representatives and had little influence in the dispensation of offices in the Zachary Taylor administration. Lincoln had already advanced Anson G. Henry for a position in Minnesota, and when Whig activist George W. Rives requested the same, Lincoln responded “…You overrate my capacity to serve you. Not one man recommended by me has yet been appointed to anything, little or big, except a few who had no opposition.
“Besides this, at the very inaug[u]ration I commenced trying to get a Min[n]esota appointment for Dr Henry, and have not yet succeeded; and I would not now, lessen his chance, by recommending any living man for anything in that Territory…” The autograph letter signed on pale blue paper, dated Springfield, 7 May 1849, rose to $16,250, snapped up by a buyer in the trade.
Fetching $6,750, Ayn Rand’s (1905-1982) We the Living was a first edition of the Russian-American writer and philosopher’s first book published in America (New York: Macmillan, 1936) and came in the scarce dust jacket over the publisher’s tan cloth stamped in blue. The book’s theme was about the supreme value of an individual life and the evil of a state that claims the right to take and sacrifice that life. Rand held that each individual has a moral right to live for his own sake, to pursue his own personal happiness.
Homer, The Odyssey, with 26 black-on-gold roundels by Bruce Rogers in the style of ancient Greek vase paintings, one of 530 copies of the first T.E. Lawrence editions, with a handwritten letter by Lawrence, London, 1932, sold for $7,500.
One of 200 numbered copies, from a total edition of 225, was a portfolio by Spanish artist Joan Miró (1893-1983) and French poet Jacques Prévert (1900-1977), that was bid to $6,500. “Adonides,” Paris, 1975, comprised complete text and 44 en-texte and one hors-texte double-page color etchings with aquatint, within original Auvergne paper wrappers. It was signed in pencil by the artist and in red pencil by the publisher. As Prévert died before production was finished, his signature appears in facsimile.
American literature’s heavy hitter William Faulkner’s, fourth novel, The Sound and the Fury, a tale of the destruction and downfall an aristocratic family from four different points of view, was presented in a first edition, first state dust jacket, New York, 1929, and realized $6,500. It was priced at $3 on the rear panel.
In 20 hrs. 40 mins. Our Flight in the Friendship, America’s lost aviatrix Amelia Earhart (1897 – disappeared 1937) recalls her fascination with the early world of aviation and her 1928 transatlantic flight with Will Stultz aboard the Friendship to become the first woman pilot to accomplish the feat. With 61 illustrations inserted throughout, the first edition and author’s autograph edition, New York, 1928, left the gallery at $6,000.
Additional literary highlights in the sale included a first edition of Pablo Neruda’s Canto General, signed by Neruda and artists Rivera and Siquieros, with an additional inscription by Neruda, Mexico City, 1950, that brought $6,250; John Keats’ Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St Agnes, and Other Poems, first edition, London, 1820, going out at $5,750; and Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, signed and inscribed by actor Sean Connery and three other members of the principal cast of the 1965 film adaptation, London, 1964, which finished at $4,750.
Children’s literature was represented by Walt Disney Studios Sketch Book of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, illustrated throughout, a first edition, signed by Walt Disney, London, 1938, fetching $5,720.
And there were several important autographs crossing the block. One was a guestbook for the American Embassy at London that includes signatures by Winston S. Churchill, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, and more than 60 additional signatures, mostly by British or American political figures, 1951-52. It sold for $5,250.
A Rabindranath Tagore autograph letter signed to writer Ernest Rhys consenting to the use of his photograph and autograph and planning a trip to Japan, 1914, brought $5,250, while American inventor Thomas A. Edison weighed in with an autograph quotation signed, reading “All things come to him who hustles while he waits,” 1917, $5,000, and a typed letter signed, describing the work required to prepare the first phonograph in time for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, 1922, also selling for $5,000.
An autograph musical quotation by tempestuous Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, dated and signed, from his 2nd Concerto for Piano, 1933, went out at $5,000.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. The next offering of fine books and autographs at Swann will be this fall. The house is currently accepting quality consignments. For information, www.swanngalleries.com or 212-254-4710.
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