Auctions | October 16, 2017

Jimmy Van Heusen Musical Autograph Collection Comes to Swann Galleries

180-Mendelssohn.jpgNew York—Swann Galleries’ auction of Autographs will take place on Tuesday, November 7, with rare and illuminating letters, and signed photographs, books and “short snorters” from major world players of the last 200 years.

The cornerstone of the sale is the Jimmy Van Heusen Collection of musical manuscripts and autographs, sold to benefit Cazenovia College in New York. Van Heusen was an American composer of popular songs for musical theater, radio, film and television, best known from songs performed by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and others. The offering of 76 lots includes not only the original musical manuscripts of his biggest hits, but also many autograph musical quotations and letters by some of the most influential composers of classical music from the nineteenth- and twentieth centuries, including Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Claude Debussy and Antonín Dvorák. Van Heusen’s own works are led by a twice-signed manuscript draft for the vocal score of Love and Marriage, circa 1955, with an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. 

Classical highlights include an 1850 signed and dated autograph musical quotation by Robert Schumann from the first act of Genoveva, the only opera he ever composed, in uncommonly good condition ($8,000 to $12,000), and a letter from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy containing an autograph musical manuscript of May Song, to philologist Adolf Friedrich Stenzler, with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. Also available is an autograph musical quotation, dated and signed, of eight bars from the prelude to the first act of Lohengrin by Richard Wagner, 1846, with an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000, and a brief February 1891 letter from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in which he says he is en route to New York, where he was to play at the inauguration of Carnegie Hall on May 5, 1891, estimated at $5,000 to $7,500.

The top lot of the sale is a 1780 letter from George Washington to his spymaster Benjamin Tallmadge, requesting intelligence during the Revolutionary War. The page, bearing an extremely fine signature, is valued at $25,000 to $35,000. Presidential signatures on important documents include John Adams, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and others. A less formal view of the presidency comes in the form of a circa 1950s inscription and drawing by John F. Kennedy on Senate stationery showing the PT-109 torpedo boat he commanded during WWII ($3,000 to $4,000).

Additional political signatures span the lifetime of America. A manuscript letter by Noah Webster (of Merriam-Webster notoriety), signed “A Federalist,” circa 1800, offers insight into Webster’s opinion on the Constitution, with an estimate of $15,000 to $25,000. Also available is a group portrait of the members of the 1981-86 Burger Court, signed by each, valued at $1,000 to $2,000.

One of the most unusual items available is Marlene Dietrich's personal "short snorter," a scroll of currency signed by over 1,000 military & entertainment notables, including Ernest Hemingway & George S. Patton, from the 1940s ($3,500 to $5,000). Additional items from the actress’s personal collection include two letters to her written by Hemingway: in one dated 1957, he lists his medical complaints, while in an earlier undated letter written aboard the Ile de France, he praises her beauty and restates his love for her (each $10,000 to $15,000).A selection of autographs by scientists features Niels Bohr’s signed and annotated copy of his physics textbook from Trinity College at Cambridge in 1911, An Elementary Treatise on Theoretical Mechanics by James Hopwood Jean ($4,000 to $6,000). A photograph signed by Albert Einstein that shows him at home in Princeton, NJ, celebrating the construction of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, has an estimate of $3,000 to $4,000. A signed photograph of Sigmund Freud by Halberstadt, signed & inscribed to Horace W. Frink, 1922 ($10,000 to $15,000) will also be available.

The complete catalogue and bidding information is available at

Image: Lot 180: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Autograph Letter Signed, with Autograph Musical Manuscript of May Day, Düsseldorf, 21 June 1834. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000.


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