Review by WA Demers, Photos courtesy Swann Auction Galleries
NEW YORK CITY — Bidders’ curiosity was piqued by a book and autograph sale at the Swann Auction Galleries on June 16 that revealed a mother lode of historic gems. Important documents from world leaders, including a selection of more than 40 US presidential autographs from a diverse group of 20 presidents and first ladies, were on offer, led by an archive of more than 60 Woodrow Wilson letters written during World War II. world. Literature highlights ran the gamut, from a three-volume first edition by Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre1847, to a limited and signed edition of The Nobel Lecture by Bob Dylan, 2017.
The total bid was $551,775; the sell-out rate was 84%, and Swann hosted approximately 400 registered bidders.
The 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 up and finds love for Mr. Rochester, the brooding master of Thornfield Hall. An immediate hit with Victorian readers, the novel revolutionized prose fiction by being the first to focus on the moral and spiritual development of its protagonist through an intimate first-person narrative. At Swann Auction Galleries’ book and autograph sale on June 16, the three-volume set sold for $23,750. The original edition was bound in full pebbled green morocco by Wood, covers with flowery corners,
Two major Nobel laureates in a group of photographers made up the sale’s second best-selling lot with Albert Einstein and Tagore Rabindranath depicting physics meeting literature in a photograph signed by the two men, which fetched $20,000. The photograph was also dated by Einstein. The 8 by 10 inch half-length portrait of Martin Vos showing the two in conversation was signed in the image, above the relevant portrait. In addition, it was signed by the photographer at the bottom right. During the summer of 1930, Einstein and Tagore met twice to discuss the nature of truth. The content of their discussion is published in an appendix to Tagore’s religion of man1931.
Recovering 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, almost all as chairman, by the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and later by Edward N. Hurley of the US Shipping Board. Mostly typed and accompanied by an autograph letter, these were mostly business matters, including accepting his resignation from the FTC, discussing candidates for the FTC or the Red Cross War Council or other organizations, arranging meetings, discussing wartime commercial shipping issues – including a plot to destroy American and British ships – arranging assistance to other countries during and after the war etc.
Additional letters from 20th century notables were sought. Two letters typed in German signed “A. Einstein” to the aphorist Hans Margolius discussed the views of Kant, Schiller and Spinoza on ethics and superstition. Dated October 5, 1950, they were bid for $16,250. The first letter encouraged Margolius to publish his manuscript because it would reward bravery in confronting superstition, noting that Spinoza showed that we can be whole if we have understanding and, in a postscript, proposing 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 held that the emotional triggers of ethical action belong to psychology rather than to ethics.
And a typewritten 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 was used historically filled a page and was dated Atlanta, January 18, 1966. It came out at $15,000.
A cut signature of George Washington, likely removed from a letter, confirmed the continued popularity of Father of Our Country-related material. Measuring just 1 ¼ by 3 ¼ inches, the undated signature fetched $10,625.
Each ending at $10,000 was a three-volume set by Herman Melville Moby Dick, or The Whale, profusely illustrated by Rockwell Kent, and an autograph letter signed by Henry David Thoreau. The Melville/Kent bundle featured the publisher’s silver-stamped black cloth on beveled boards and the original acetate dust jackets with parchment flaps. A limited edition, one of 1,000 unnumbered sets by Lakeside Press, 1930, this presentation copy was inscribed by Kent “To / Eleanor Netten / by / Rockwell Kent [flourish beneath]in pencil on the first free endpaper of the first volume.
The Thoreau letter was addressed to the editors of Putnam’s Monthly, Dix & Edwardsacknowledging receipt of payment of an installment from “Cape Cod” and dated Concord, June 2, 1855. “Your check for forty dollars on the Nassau Bank, in payment of part of “Cape Cod”, arrived safely security. Please accept my thanks for your promptness. The book, Cape Codpublished posthumously in 1865, contains Thoreau’s observations on a number of excursions he made to Cape Cod between 1849 and 1856. It first appeared as a series of articles in the during the summer of 1855 in Putnam’s Monthly magazine.
The prices shown include the buyer’s commission as quoted by the auction house. The firm’s next sale of books and manuscripts will take place in the fall. For more information, 212-254-4710 or www.swanngalleries.com.