Auctions | May 4, 2011

Auction Record for Milton Autograph at Swann Galleries

NEW YORK—Swann Galleries’ auction of Autographs on April 21 offered a rich selection of presidential autographs, although it was a 17th-century document signed by John Milton that was the sale’s top lot. An endorsement signed by the then blind author of Paradise Lost—ironically serving as a witness to the signing of a land deed in 1657—sold for $45,600*, a record price for Milton's autograph, which is very rarely found on the market.

Other noteworthy writers’ autographs included a document signed by poet Heinrich Heine, as “Henri Heine,” in French, written from Paris where he settled after a series of anti-semitic attacks in his German homeland, 16 Sept 1848; and a July 1902 photograph signed and inscribed by Mark Twain, which he apparently found unflattering, as the inscription reads, “Age reconciles us to all things: / even to the most fiendish of / portrait-libels,” each of which brought $9,600.

The featured presidential items were a George Washington autograph letter signed “Go:Washington,” to J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur, sending letters to be forwarded to recipients in France, Mount Vernon, 18 August 1788, $13,200; a circular letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, as President, sending the 12th amendment to the Constitution to an unnamed Governor for ratification, Washington, 13 December 1803, $25,200; and a partly-printed document signed by James A. Garfield, as President, ordering the Secretary of State to affix the U.S. seal to an envelope containing documents announcing Romania as a Kingdom, Washington, 5 May 1881, $7,800.

A stand-out scientific autograph was a Charles Darwin autograph letter signed, to an unnamed recipient, about the evidence for the theory of plant cross-fertilization, Down Bromley Kent, 24 December 1856, $26,400. Also related to science and medicine were an etched portrait of Sigmund Freud by Hermann Struck signed, “freud,” in pencil, circa 1914, $7,800; and a photograph of Albert Einstein signed and inscribed “Herrn Dr. Max Heimann dem Gütigen / December 1935,” $7,200.

A scrapbook kept by a fan of movie idol James Dean was valued for a signed portrait photograph that it contained as well as original photographs of Dean and his grandparents, 1950s-60s, $10,200.

Autographs by noted artists included an illustrated autograph letter from Lyonel Feininger, signed “Leo,” to Theodore Spicer-Simson, with three small hand-colored prints, New York, 30 March 1950, $7,200; and a group of 25 autograph and typed letters signed from John Berryman to teacher and critic Ralph C. Ross, 1957-71, $9,600.

Featured in the music section were a group of three items, each signed by Ralph Vaughn Williams, London, 1921, $7,800; and a Camille Saint-Saëns autograph musical manuscript for one of his last compositions, a song entitled  “Aux Aviateurs,” dated and signed, “C. Saint-Saëns 1921,” $6,240.

Rounding out the sale was a Mohandas K. Gandhi signature in Hindi and English, on a 5 Rupees note, 1938-48, $5,760; a full sheet of U.S. postage stamps commemorating the battle of Iwo Jima signed by photographer Joe Rosenthal and the three flag-raisers who survived the battle, 1945-46, $6,480; and an eloquently written typed letter signed from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Arthur Leonard Ross, thanking him for a contribution and outlining the ambitions and challenges for the civil rights movement, Atlanta, 30 July 1964, $6,480.
For complete results, an illustrated catalogue, with prices realized on 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 upcoming Autographs auctions, please contact Marco Tomaschett at (212) 254-4710, extension 12, or via email at

 *All prices include buyer’s premium.
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