Swann Sets Auction Record for Frederick Douglass Autograph at $112K

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Frederick Douglass, Autograph Letter Signed, to Sallie Holley recruiting her for the Frederick Douglass Paper, 1851. Sold for $112,500, a record for an ALS by Douglass.
Frederick Douglass, Autograph Letter Signed, to Sallie Holley recruiting her for the Frederick Douglass Paper, 1851. Sold for $112,500, a record for an ALS by Douglass.

FINE BOOKS & AUTOGRAPHS

Sale 2559; February 25, 2021

Sale total: $522,632

Estimates for sale as a whole: $304,400–$456,550

We offered 269 lots; 243 sold (90% sell-through rate by lot)

All prices include Buyer’s Premium.

New York—Swann Galleries closed out February with an exceptional sale of Fine Books & Autographs, which saw a 90% sell-through rate and exceeded the total high estimate, bringing in $522,632. The auction brought forth historic autographs from political figures and celebrities alike, as well as first editions from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

The house set an auction record for an autograph by Frederick Douglass with the sale of an 1851 autograph letter signed for $112,500. The historic letter comes from an important turning point in Douglass’s career, the letter—addressed to Sallie Holley, recruiting her for the Frederick Douglass Paper—was written after his split with Garrisonian abolitionism, and the merging of his North Star paper and the Liberty Party Paper.  The result surpassed the previous auction record for a letter by Douglass, set by Swann in 2017 when an ALS addressed to journalist George Alfred Townsend sold for $100,000.

Religious figures, pioneers in medicine, and Hollywood icons also found success with collectors. Notable leaders of faith included an 1843 affidavit signed by Joseph Smith certifying an obligation to appear in court or pay a fine ($11,250); and a 1940 letter in English signed by Mohandas K. Gandhi explaining his delayed response and remarking on his work for the Red Cross ($8,750). An 1866 autograph letter signed by Joseph Lister to his father remarking on a recent success treating a compound fracture ($10,000); as well as an 1861 ALS by Florence Nightingale praising the superintendent of nurses at St. John’s House ($6,000) were standouts in medicine. From Hollywood came, signed and inscribed photograph of James Dean ($8,750), and a watercolor and graphite drawing of Donald Duck signed and inscribed by Walt Disney ($5,000).  

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, first edition, first issue in the original first-issue dust jacket, New York, 1926. Sold for $32,500.
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, first edition, first issue in the original first-issue dust jacket, New York, 1926. Sold for $32,500.

The literature offering was led by a first edition, first issue of The Sun Also Rises, New York, 1926, by Ernest Hemingway in the original first-issue dust jacket, at $32,500. Additional twentieth-century highlights included the rarest of the James Bond titles The Man With the Golden Gun, London, 1965, a first edition, first sate with the golden gun on the front cover, by Ian Fleming ($6,500); and a first collected edition of James Joyce’s Collected Poems, New York, 1936 ($7,500). From the nineteenth-century was Mark Twain with the author’s copy of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the Astronomer-Poet of Persia, Boston, 1878, signed and inscribed twice ($6,750), and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, New York, 1885, the first American edition in the scarce blue cloth ($5,250).

Highlights from the selection of art books included Salvador Dalí with a signed copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Paris and New York, 1969, by Lewis Carrol with an etched, colored frontispiece and 12 color heliogravures ($8,450); and a Limited Editions Club edition of Pablo Picasso and Aristophanes Lysistrata: A New Version by Gilbert Selders, New York, 1934, signed by Picasso ($5,000).

For the house’s most up-to-date auction schedule please visit swanngalleries.com.

Auction Result
Auction Result

Key:  * = Record for Autograph; C = Collector; D = Dealer; 

Additional highlights can be found here.

Captions:

Lot 23: Frederick Douglass, Autograph Letter Signed, to Sallie Holley recruiting her for the Frederick Douglass Paper, 1851. Sold for $112,500, a record for an ALS by Douglass.

Lot 172: Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, first edition, first issue in the original first-issue dust jacket, New York, 1926. Sold for $32,500.

Specialist, Autographs: Marco Tomaschett • [email protected] • 212-254-4710 x 12

Specialist, Literature & Art Books: John D. Larson • [email protected] • 212-254-4710 x 61

Chief Marketing Officer: Alexandra Nelson • [email protected] • 212-254-4710 x 19

Public Relations Associate: Kelsie Jankowski • [email protected] • 212-254-4710 x 23

Social media: @swanngalleries  

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ILLUSTRATED CATALOGUE, ADDL. IMAGES & COMPLETE PRICES REALIZED ON REQUEST

Swann Auction Galleries is a third-generation family business as well as the world’s largest auction house for works on paper. In the last 75 years, Swann has repeatedly revolutionized the trade with such innovations as the first U.S. auction dedicated to photographs and the world’s only department of African-American Fine Art. More than 30 auctions and previews are held annually in Swann Galleries’ two-floor exhibition space in Midtown Manhattan, and online worldwide. Visit swanngalleries.com for more information.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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