Auctions | May 2, 2017

Conquistadors & Mormons Lead Swann Galleries' Spring Auction

210-Mormon copy.jpgNew York—On Thursday, April 27, Swann Galleries offered their tenth consecutive auction of Printed & Manuscript Americana to exceed $700,000. Much of the top material was unique or extremely rare, including diaries, letters and archives, many of which had never previously been seen at auction. 

Swann Galleries has gained a reputation as the leading source for quality material relating to the foundation of Mormonism. A first edition Book of Mormon, 1830—the only edition to list Joseph Smith as the "author and proprietor" rather than as the translator—led the sale at $52,500*. Other stand-out lots included a pair of legal documents, 1842, signed by Smith while he was the Mayor and Justice of the Peace in Nauvoo, Illinois, in a case against the postmaster of the town, which flew past its high estimate of $3,500 to $23,750, as well as a recognizance document from the following year, ordering a nurse to pay $100, which reached $15,000, above a high estimate of $1,800. Each of the seven offered lots related to Mormonism sold above their estimates.

The top five lots all went to private collectors.  A rare letter by Hernán Cortés to his property manager, instructing him to be hospitable to a visiting bishop, was purchased for $32,500; no other letters from the conquistador have appeared at auction in the last 30 years.

Further highlights included a Force printing by William J. Stone of the Declaration of Independence, 1833, a cornerstone of Americana collecting, at $21,250, and a large archive of Milwaukee sculptor John Severinus Conway that reached $12,500, above a high estimate of $3,000. A circa 1811 manuscript speech on the formation of New York's College of Physicians and Surgeons by Samuel Bard sold for $8,750,

Journals included the accounts of a diary missionary Edward W. Syles in Shanghai and San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1850s at $7,250, as well as the translated manuscript of a Japanese soldier’s last days in World War II ($3500). The bound diary of a wealthy Manhattan orphan in the mid-nineteenth century reached $2,250.

Among the records set was $1,375 for the iconic San Francisco Call-Chronicle-Examiner on the 1906 earthquake; the previous record of $840 was set in 2008. Additionally, the first complete set of Amos Doolittle's engravings of the Prodigal Son parable to be sold at auction in nearly 30 years sold for $6,500.

Institutions acquired important material, including an archive of a Mexican pulque bar that spanned nearly a century, which was purchased by the University of Notre Dame. A different institution purchased the first edition of Esther Levy's Jewish Cookery Book, 1871, the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States, for $11,250.

Specialist Rick Stattler noted, "The market remains strong for good, interesting material.  That this was our tenth consecutive sale to surpass $700,000 demonstrates a strong foundation in the market."

The next sale of Printed & Manuscript Americana at Swann Galleries will be held September 28, 2017. For more information or consign quality materials, contact Rick Stattler at

Image: Lot 210 Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. Sold April 27, 2017 for $52,500.