Marcus, Josephine, Coltrane, Monk … At Swann Galleries Auction

george washington carvey letterAs we celebrate American history, the Swann Galleries offer us an opportunity to own it. On Thursday, March 27 Swann Galleries will offer a rich assortment of historical material related to the African experience in the Americas in their 19th annual auction of Printed & Manuscript African Americana. This extraordinary sale, catalogued as it is each year by Wyatt Houston Day, features items dating back to the 18th century through the modern civil rights era, and highlights the contributions of black artists, writers, musicians, educators, statesmen, athletes and more.

The lot with the highest pre-sale estimate is an archive of 97 letters signed by George Washington Carver, to his friend Mrs. Sophie Liston, who met Carver in his first year at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. The letters—written from 1925 to 1937—cover various topics including agricultural lecture tours, racism, conditions during the Great Depression, Tuskegee Institute life, the Christian Science Church, national government policy, polio treatments, massage and oil therapy, painting and gardening, and most come with their original envelopes. The pre-sale estimate is $80,000 to $120,000.

Two extraordinary archives related to slavery and abolition are also featured. The first is a large collection of manuscript and printed matter from the Bourne Family, 1793-1919, which includes minister, journalist and abolitionist George Bourne’s original 48-page manuscript for his Anti-Slavery Lecture delivered in Newburyport, Massachusetts on July 4th, 1837, copious correspondence, two manuscript accounts of Bourne’s meeting with Thomas Paine in 1804, and a large amount of material related to his son Theodore Bourne, African emigration and the African Civilization Society ($40,000 to $60,000).

Offering a glimpse into the business of working plantations is a collection of papers spanning nearly a century from the Arthur G. Rose and Charles Bulow Plantations of South Carolina, 1812-90s. There are 14 different slave-sale documents both printed and handwritten; a diary, seven bank books and stock certificates; correspondence regarding Rose family and Bulow family interests; receipts for sales and purchases and ephemera ($15,000 to $25,000).

Other related items include a brochure for an 1859 estate sale held by Charleston slave dealers Porcher and Baya, advertising 229 Rice Field Negroes ($10,000 to $15,000); a contemporary oil painting after George Morland’s famous anti-slavery image The Slave Trade, Great Britain, circa 1791-1800 ($30,000 to $40,000); and sheet music for The Fugitive’s Song, Words Composed and respectfully dedicated in token of confident esteem to Frederick Douglass . . . written by Jesse Hutchinson, of The Hutchinson Family Singers, a touring act that performed anti-slavery songs, Boston, 1845 ($7,500 to $10,000).

An outstanding military section features selections from the collection of the late William Gladstone, the preeminent scholar on the Colored Troops of the American Civil War and author of United States Colored Troops 1863-1867 and Men of Color. Highlights of his collection include a fine example of a rare recruitment broadside seeking colored troops, All Slaves Were Made Freemen by Abraham Lincoln, President of The United States, January 1st 1863, chromolithograph, likely from Philadelphia, 1863 ($15,000 to $20,000); the iconic carte-de-visite image of Escaped Slave Private Gordon, showing his badly beaten and scarred back, circa 1864 ($8,000 to $10,000); and an American flag with stenciled lettering reading “Andersonville Prison Survivors Assoc. Lest We Forget,” which commemorated the 69 black prisoners who survived the Confederate military prison known as “Camp Sumter” ($5,000 to $7,500).

Another noteworthy flag related to the Civil War is a circa 1915 survivor’s reunion flag for the 5th Regiment, with the lettering “U.S. Colored Troops Survivor Reunion, Columbus Ohio” ($7,000 to $10,000).

The sale is rich in material related to Harlem resident Marcus Garvey, and features the original manuscript for the second edition of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, assembled and edited by Amy Jacques Garvey, the leader’s second wife and amanuensis, New York City, 1921-25 ($10,000 to $15,000).

honor king end racismFrom the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s are many pieces related to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., including a pictorial portfolio from the August 28, 1963 March on Washington, emblazoned with the words We Shall Overcome on the cover, which is very hard to find in such good condition and a rare example of a sign carried by striking Memphis sanitation workers after King’s assassination that reads HONOR KING: END RACISM! ($4,000 to $6,000 each).

There are more than 30 lots of material regarding the Black Panther Party, including iconic posters and scarce fliers, as well as two groups of items related to the arrest and trial of Angela Davis, one a collection of hand-painted broadsides, petitions and postcards from Davis’s East German supporters ($3,000 to $4,000), the other a group of 25 items including press photos and magazines ($1,000 to $1,500).

An exceptional collection of Pullman Porter material—the most complete Swann has ever offered—features nearly all of the equipment needed by a porter, such as a ticket puncher, uniform and step stool, plus personal identification, 1920s to 1960s ($15,000 to $25,000).

Among the music memorabilia is an early poster for The Original Nashville Students, Chicago, 1886 ($5,000 to $7,500); sixteen bars of untitled original music written in pencil by John Coltrane, circa late 1950s ($1,500 to $2,500); and a Time Magazine cover signed by its cover subject, Thelonius Monk, 1964 ($1,500 to $2,500).

A theater highlight is a small but rich archive chronicling the evolution of Mississippi Rainbow, a comedy written for an all-black cast by white playwright John Charles Brownell, which includes a copy of the script, correspondence, photographs and some ephemera, 1927-1961 ($6,000 to $9,000), while a section devoted to film features posters for Bill Pickett, World’s Greatest Colored Champion, “The Bull-Dogger,” 1921 ($7,500 to $10,000) and a Czech version of Zou Zou starring Josephine Baker, circa 1934 ($8,000 to $12,000).

Fodder for a great film, no doubt, is a collection of items from American track and field athlete of the 1930s Eulace Peacock, often referred to as the “Fastest Man on Earth.” He was Jesse Owens’s chief rival, and beat Owens five times in the trials running up to the 1936 Olympics, where he was unable to compete due to an injury. The archive contains gold, silver and bronze medals, correspondence, newspaper clippings, programs, the passport he would have used to travel to Berlin, his 1932 and 1933 high school yearbooks and more ($10,000 to $15,000).

From the 18th century is an exceptional copy of Benjamin Banneker’s Almanack and Ephemeric for the Year of our Lord, 1793, an exceedingly rare work from the self-taught astronomer, mathematician, surveyor and author ($10,000 to $15,000).

Wow, the auction will take place on Thursday, March 27 at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The items will be on public exhibition at Swann Galleries on Saturday, March 22, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and Monday, March 24 through Wednesday, March 26, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Groups wishing to attend the preview are requested to make advance arrangements.

An illustrated catalogue, with information on bidding by mail or fax, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, 104 East 25 Street, New York, NY 10010, (212) 254-4710, extension 0, and can also be viewed online at www.swanngalleries.com. Bids can also be submitted by e-mail via the website.

Live online bidding is available via Invaluable.com

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