Auctions | April 19, 2013

Amistad-Related Letters Led Swann Galleries’ Sale of African Americana

NEW YORK—Swann Galleries’ March 21 auction of Printed & Manuscript African Americana drew collectors, dealers and institutions alike to compete for scarce and one-of-a-kind material related to black history.

Wyatt Houston Day, Swann’s African Americana specialist said, “We were so pleased to see such a large number of items in this sale—more than 100—go to institutions, including the Connecticut Historical Society, which acquired the sale’s top lot, a collection of Amistad-related letters.”

That lot, which received a tremendous amount of pre-sale publicity, consisted of 94 letters written between Charlotte Cowles and her brother Samuel, recounting the family’s interactions and friendship with the Amistad captives, Farmington and Hartford, Connecticut, 1833-46, and sold for $66,000*.

A related item, John W. Barber’s A History of the Amistad Captives, New Haven, 1840, brought $7,800.

The sale was rich in material related to slavery and abolition, as well as a number of items regarding the Emancipation Proclamation—at the fore of many people’s minds due to it sesquicentennial and the recent award-winning film Lincoln.

Extremely scarce printed items included one of only five known copies of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, Boston & Rochester, 1847-48, $31,200; and John Brown, Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for People of the United States, first and only printing, Ontario, 1858, $22,800.

An auction broadside for the sale of assets including slaves, Under Decree in Equity . . . Plantation or Tract of Land Called “Richfield,” Charleston, 1854 brought $18,000.

Among manuscript items were two Virginia lots, a signed search warrant by Richard Henry Lee for five runaways, 1769, $7,200; and a ship’s manifest for 92 slaves, from Franklin and Armfield, slave dealers, 1833, $16,800.

From the Civil War were a letter from Morgan W. Carter of the 28th U.S.C.T, a black soldier, to a friend, Virginia, 1864, $38,400; a pair of carte-de-visite photographs of United States Colored Troops by David Bustill Bowser, Philadelphia, 1863, $6,960; and Illustrated Review Ninth Cavalry, U.S.A. Fort D.A. Russell, Wyoming, 1910, history of the Buffalo Soldiers, Denver, 1910, $12,000.


A copy of The Thirteenth Amendment, as ratified by Rhode Island and signed by Secretary of State John R. Bartlett, Providence, 1865, brought $21,600.

A literary highlight from the slave era was The Anglo-African Magazine, first edition, containing the first published story by an African-American woman, New York, 1859, $8,400.

Moving into the 20th century were a signed first edition of W.E.B. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro, a Social Study, Philadelphia, 1899, $6,960; a graphite portrait of Marcus Garvey / Provisional President of Africa, circa 1916-17, $7,800; an extraordinary collection of material related to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, or Pullman Porters, including a cap, uniform and service ware, circa 1910-50’s, $22,800; and a charming archive of photographs, programs and ephemera from Harlem Renaissance-era chorus girl Laurie Cathrell, 1920s-40s, $10,800.


An assortment of posters and other items related to the Black Panther movement proved popular, most notably a cloth banner emblazoned with Black Panther ’67, from Lowndes County, Alabama, 1967, which achieved $43,200; as well as Emory Douglas’s Either / Or, poster depicting Bobby Seale, San Francisco, circa 1970, $10,800.

Another poster from the same era was the evocative American Imperialism, a piece of Soviet propaganda depicting the KKK, riots, and horrors of the Viet Nam War, Moscow, 1968, $11,400.

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: The Thirteenth Amendment, as ratified by Rhode Island and signed by Secretary of State John R. Bartlett, Providence, 1865. Sold for $21,600 (including buyer's premium).

Second image: Black Panther '67, cloth banner from Lowndes County, Alabama, 1967. Sold for $43,200 (including buyer's premium).