Auctions | April 6, 2011

Presidential Autographs at Swann Galleries April 21

New York—On Thursday, April 21 Swann Galleries will conduct an auction of Autographs featuring Americana, world leaders, scientists, explorers, royalty, writers, artists, musicians, entertainers, and more.

A large section devoted to presidents includes outstanding nineteenth-century material, such as a letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, as President, sending an unnamed governor a copy of the proposed Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution concerning the election of President and Vice President, Washington, 13 December 1803 (estimate $15,000 to $20,000); a signed carte-de-visite portrait of Abraham Lincoln not dated, but known to have been photographed by Alexander Gardner on August 9, 1863 ($40,000 to $60,000); a partly printed document signed by James A. Garfield, ordering the Secretary of State to affix the seal of the U.S. to “an envelope containing my reply to the letter of King Charles of Romania, announcing the erection of Romania into a Kingdom… ,” Washington, May 5, 1881 ($8,000 to $12,000); and an unusually large signed and inscribed photograph of Chester A. Arthur ($7,000 to $10,000).

Of note among twentieth-century presidential letters are two handwritten retained drafts signed by Ronald Reagan, one to his daughter Patti Davis, the other to physician and anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, with related correspondence from Caldicott and Davis, Washington, 18 January 1983 ($6,000 to $9,000). The notes are penned on memo paper decorated with a cartoon character and the words “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” With the intention of swaying her father’s opinion on nuclear weapons, Davis arranged a meeting between the president and Caldicott. News of the meeting caused a sensation when a journalist published the information although she had said she would keep their discussion off the record. In the letter to Caldicott, Reagan treats the indiscretion graciously, saying he has “been a victim of the same kind of unethical behavior.”

A photograph of aviator Charles Lindbergh, dated June 12, 1927, just after he returned from his historic non-stop flight to Paris, is signed and inscribed to John Coolidge, son of the President ($1,000 to $2.000). Pioneering astronauts are represented by a brochure announcing Project Mercury, the first American program to send spacecraft piloted by human beings into orbit around the earth, signed by the seven newly appointed Mercury astronauts and the director, Langley Research Center, April 1959 ($3,000 to $4,000).

Autograph letters with good content from scientists and inventors include an ALS from Charles Darwin to an unnamed recipient, regarding his theory of plant cross-fertilization ($7,000 to $10,000); a three-page Autograph Letter Signed by Samuel F.B. Morse to a member of the Western Union Board of Directors, written from Paris in 1867, asking for the names of “dishonorable” company representatives who are seeking investments in the Western Union Russian Extension Company, which states at one point, “if wealth can be obtained only by such swindle, I prefer poverty” ($4,000 to $6,000).

A strong selection of writers’ autographs includes one of the earliest items in the sale, an Endorsement Signed by John Milton, as a witness to a mortgage transaction, although Milton was blind by that time, Reigate, 23 January 1657 ($7,000 to $10,000); a dated and signed Autograph Quotation by Harriet Beecher Stowe, with five lines from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1894 ($3,000 to $4,000); a photographic portrait of Mark Twain, signed and inscribed “Age reconciles us to all things: / even to the most fiendish of / portrait-libels,” July 1902 ($4,000 to $6,000). In addition, there are more than 60 letters written to teacher and critic Ralph G. Ross from six writers he befriended and mentored, including many from Saul Bellow being offered in three lots; a small archive of correspondence from John Berryman and a group of poems by Berryman; and three lots of material related to William Carlos Williams, among them a Typed Letter Signed expressing his outrage that T.S. Eliot is given credit for improving English poetry by incorporating elements from an earlier generation of American poets, Rutherford, NJ, 1 May 1948 ($1,500 to $2,500).

The musicians section features an Autograph Letter Signed by Franz Liszt to Polish diplomat and amateur tenor and opera composer Prince Józef Michal Poniatowski, in French, inviting him to a dinner party, with a hand-addressed envelope ($2,500 to $3,500); two Autograph Musical Manuscripts of songs by Camille Saint-Saëns from 1921 ($4,000 to $6,000 each); and an Autograph Musical Quotation Inscribed and Signed by Igor Stravinsky, to his friend and translator Lucia Davidova, 1952 ($2,000 to $3,000).

Hollywood fans will appreciate a scrapbook of items from James Dean’s grandparents, kept by a fan who was a neighbor of theirs, which includes a signed portrait photograph and 30 pages of press clippings, baby pictures, and a letter to his grandparents from a sympathetic MGM employee following Dean’s death ($4,000 to $6,000).

Rounding out the sale are an Autograph Letter Signed by John Jay to his ailing wife, conveying his frustration at being unable to visit her, Bedford ($3,000 to $4,000); and a signed cabinet card photograph of Rain-in-the-Face, Chief of the Lakota, Chicago, 1893 ($2,000 to $3,000); an animation cell from Pinocchio, signed and inscribed by Walt Disney, circa 1940s ($5,000 to $7,500); and a full sheet of U.S. postage stamps commemorating the battle of Iwo Jima, signed by photographer Joe Rosenthal and the three surviving flag-raisers, Rene A. Gagnon, Ira H. Hayes, and John H. Bradley, with additional autograph  material from each survivor and Rosenthal, 1945-46 ($5,000 to $7,000).

The auction will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 21.

The Autographs will be on public exhibition Saturday, April 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Monday, April 18 through Wednesday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, April 21, from ??10 a.m. to noon.

 An illustrated catalogue, with information on bidding by mail or fax, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Marco Tomaschett at (212) 254-4710, extension 12, or via e-mail at

Live online bidding is also available via
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