Thursday, March 8, 2012

Swann Galleries: Printed and Manuscript African Americana, Sale 2271

Swann Auction Galleries' Printed and Manuscript African Americana Sale was held on March 1, 2012, bringing in $986,054 with buyer's premium, and selling approximately 74% of the 534 lots. The number of lots in this most recent sale was approximately 25% larger than each of the previous sales over the past ten (10) years. This is an encouraging sign that consignors are comfortably on board with the auction process and possibly see benefits to selling.

This 17th annual auction offered a wide range of materials that were grouped into broad subject areas that included, but was not limited to the following categories: slavery and abolition, civil rights, black power, Africa, art, Black Panthers, education, Marcus Garvey, literature and poetry, military, music and more.     

Wyatt Houston Day, Swann African Americana specialist, said "Yesterday's sale was the most successful auction of African Americana that Swann has ever had. We are pleased to see so much important historical material acquired by institutions." As I reviewed the results of Sale 2271, I agree with Wyatt and find satisfaction in knowing that this important historical material has been acquired by institutions. In an environment, such as a museum, an archive, an historical and culture center, and the like, there are basic expectations that the materials will be properly cared for, will be available for researchers, and will be accessible to the general public through exhibitions. 

The following are a few examples of the lots that were acquired by institutions. In all instances, except lot 294 (Alain Locke), these items were among the top lots that sold.

Lot 296: Dorothy Porter Wesley Papers

This archive of writings, consisted of "research notes and in many cases original 19th and 20th century manuscript and or documentary material for her numerous articles, and books, together with her correspondence files, including retained copies (in some instances) of her letters, with books and ephemera." There were 85 cartons that had an auction estimate of $50,000 - 75,000. Lot 296 was the second highest selling lot and sold for $43,200 with buyer's premium. In 2010, James Amos Porter's African-American Art History Reference Archive, Dorothy Porter's husband, was auctioned in Sale 2204 and acquired by Emory University

Lot 262: Ida B. Wells

A first edition of A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States (1895) far surpassed its high estimate of $6,000 and sold for $25,200. Described in the catalogue description as the utmost rarity; "there are only three copies of A Red Record located in American institutions; others listed are on microfiche."  For a detailed overview of this item, see Lot 262.

Lot 523: Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

This scarce representative collection of Pullman Porter memorabilia, dating from the turn of the 20th Century through the 1950s, had a high estimate of $2,500; however, it sold for $20,400 with buyer's premium. The collection included an "original Pullman Railroad Platform step stool, a vintage Pullman Porter's cap with brass buttons, with the metal Pullman Porter tag attached to the front, a Pullman Company towel, the original booklet with the terms of agreement between the Pullman Company and their Porters, Attendants, Maids..., and other items. See details of Lot 523.

Lot 421: Tuskegee Airmen

This collection consisted of an album of 177 photographs from the Tuskegee Airmen (332nd Fighter Group) based in Italy. This exceptional collection of photographs includes many of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Most of the photographs were shot at Ramitelli Air Force base. It is worth noting that the lot had an auction estimate of $2,000 -3,000, and it sold for $19,200. Read and see more at Lot 421.

Lot 271: Race Riots

This small but rich archive of material consists of approximately 200 pieces, focusing on race riots, Red Summer of 1919 and the Elaine, Arkansas riot. "The term Red Summer was coined by NAACP activist, writer and poet James Weldon Johnson. It described the bloody race riots that erupted in over three dozen American cities during the long, hot summer of 1919."

Lot 271 had a high estimate of $8,000; however, it sold for $14,400 with buyer's premium. Read more of the Race Riots archive.

Lot 294: Alain Locke on Black Studies 

Although this lot did not reach its low estimate of $3,000, its value is of significance because its contents, totaling 16 pages, proposes a Black Studies Department at Howard University in 1913. This places Locke ahead of the curve in suggesting the establishment of a Black Studies curriculum at an academic institution. Locke's vision was the guiding light for the establishment of what is today The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. According to the catalogue description of this lot, "these five documents follow the establishment and progress of the Founders Library at Howard University. The first part is a letter, addressed to the Board of Trustees, dated February 3, 1913, outlining in five points how and why a Negro-Americana Library and Studies Department should be set up at the school." Lot 294 sold for $2,880. 

For those of us who are art enthusiasts, it is worth noting that the highest selling lot in Sale 2271, was in the art category. The Slaves, Lot 106, is a rare contemporary copy of an iconic image which is "one of several notable images produced during the period of intense activism to abolish slavery in the West Indies." This painting was in the personal collection of artist Merton Simpson, and was acquired by a collector for $72,000. 

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