Auctions | April 21, 2015

17th-Century Manuscript Qur’an, Ragtime Archive Led Swann Galleries March 26 Auction


NEW YORK—The two top lots in Swann Galleries’ March 26 auction of Printed & Manuscript African Americana demonstrate the diversity of material in the sale. A nearly complete manuscript copy of the Qur’an, circa 1600 to 1700, from the Yattara family, one of Timbuktu’s founding families, brought $50,000*, as did a small but exceptional archive of ragtime-related material, including manuscripts related to Scott Joplin, 1900-10s.

An autograph letter signed by Frederick Douglass, attesting to the character of Harriet Tubman, addressed to the treasurer of the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society, October 1864, brought $40,000; while a long and heartbreaking 1862 letter describing items needed by contrabands in Kansas, addressed to the Ladies’ Contraband Aid Association of Rochester, sold for $8,125.

More scarce Douglass material included Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, bound by Douglass, Rochester, 1848, $20,000 and The North Star, Volume I, No. XIV, Rochester, March 1848, $25,000. Another notable newspaper lot was the only known surviving copy of John G. Stewart’s The African Sentinel and Journal of Liberty, Volume 1, No. 3, Albany, May 1831, $27,500.

Photographic items drew much interest, such as an ambrotype photograph of Elisa Greenwell, Resident of Philadelphia, Runaway from the residence of William Edelen of Leonardtown, MD in 1859, taken in the 1860s, $37,500; M.H. Kimball’s Emancipated Slaves Brought from Louisiana by Col. Geo. H. Hanks, albumen photograph, 1863, $30,000; and a photograph album of the Beals family, with important slavery-related carte-de-visites, 1860s-70s, $11,250.

A slave sale broadside from Louisiana reading “Credit Sale of Family Slaves at Mrs. Caldwell’s Hotel,” 1848 brought $37,500 and an engraved rendering of the Thirteenth Amendment, Chicago, 1868, sold for $11,250.

Striking Black Panthers posters included The Racist Dog Policemen Must Withdraw Immediately from our Communities, circa 1968, $11,875 and Emory Douglas’s You Can Jail a Revolutionary, but You Can’t Jail a Revolution, poster depicting Fred Hampton,     Chicago, 1969-70, $7,000.


Rounding out the sale highlights were a first edition of Authentic and Impartial Narrative of the Tragical Scene, a sensationalist account of the Nat Turner Rebellion, 1831, $7,000; a group of five legal briefs relating to the case of Rosetta Armstead, a slave who sued for her freedom in Ohio, 1855, $7,500; J.H.T. King, The Experience of Troop A 10th Calvary on the “Staked Plains,” Texas, only edition, 1877, $7,500; Ida Barnett Wells, The Reconstruction Review, Voice of the Carpet Bagger, Volume 1, published in Chicago by the Anti-Lynching League, 1901, $8,125 and Victor Green, The Negro Motorist Green-Book, Hotels, Taverns, Nightclubs, New York, 1941, $22,500.

For complete results, an illustrated catalogue with prices realized (by request) is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to propose consignments to next year’s auction of Printed & Manuscript African Americana, please contact Wyatt H. Day at (212) 254-4710, ext 300, or via e-mail at

*All prices include buyer’s premium.

First image: Manuscript Qur’an, Timbuktu, circa 1600 to 1700. Sold for $50,000 (including buyer’s premium).

Second image: Archive of ragtime and Scott Joplin material, 1900-10s. Sold for $50,000 (including buyer’s premium).