Auctions | April 12, 2017

Romantic Hemingway Letter to Marlene Dietrich Tops Swann Galleries' Autographs Auction

7-Hemingway-Dietrich-Letter copy.jpgNew York—On Thursday, May 4, Swann Galleries will hold their biannual auction of Autographs, featuring personal snippets of the lives of important artists, musicians, politicians, scientists and writers.

A highlight of the sale is a love letter from Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich, in which he asks her to visit him at Finca Vigía, Cuba, and tells her about his work on The Old Man and the Sea. On August 12, 1953, he wrote, “Please know that I love you always and I forget you sometimes as I forget my heart beats. But it beats always.” The letter, written on four sheets of stationery, comes from Dietrich’s family; it valued at $20,000 to $30,000. From the same consignment come several other letters from the author that open “My dearest Marlene,” sent in the 1950s from around the world. In a 1950 letter from Venice, Hemingway provides a list of his beliefs and notes that horoscopes are not included on the list ($12,000 to $18,000). Dietrich also received tokens from Richard Burton, Jean Cocteau and Noël Coward, which are featured in the sale; other photographs are signed to her daughter Maria by Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Mae West.

A strong showing of Revolutionary War correspondence includes Autograph Letters Signed by Timothy Pickering, James van Rensselaer, and other major figures. Early presidents are well represented, with several examples from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson each. A Partly-printed Document Signed by Adams as President confirms a ship’s papers in four languages on June 13, 1798, and several years later, President Jefferson signed a partly-printed vellum document, appointing William M. Daws Inspector of the Revenue for the Port of Thomaston, countersigned by Secretary of State James Madison, Washington, February 8, 1809 (each $4,000 to $6,000). Further early presidents represented in the sale include John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln.

Twentieth-century Presidents are not to be missed: a photograph of John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower by Elliot Erwitt during their historic meeting on December 6, 1960, signed by both, is expected to sell between $10,000 and $15,000. A complete sheet of 1928 20¢ stamps, collected and signed by philatelist president Franklin D. Roosevelt is valued at $1,000 to $1,500, while his Records of the Town of Hyde Park, Duchess County of the same year is estimated to sell between $2,000 and $3,000.

A section of autographs by artists includes Ludwig Bemelmans, Alexander Calder, Piet Mondrian and Maurice Sendak.  The Mechanics of Form Organization in Painting, 1926, is an Autograph Manuscript for an essay by American Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, dedicated to his pupils at the Art Students League, one of whom was Jackson Pollock. The 39 pages feature diagrams and sketches by the artist, in addition to the handwritten text for the article ($20,000 to $30,000). Claude Monet is represented in the sale by an Autograph Letter Signed to Desmond Fitzgerald in French, with a list of prices for his paintings on exhibit in Paris, Giverny, 26 November 1889, valued at $4,000 to $6,000.

Among scientists and inventors are letters from Louis Agassiz, Marie Curie and Sigmund Freud, as well as a signed and inscribed photograph of Thomas Edison with a phonograph, which he invented ($1,000 to $1,500). Further autographs by the inventor include Letters Signed, as well as checks and clipped signatures. A graphite portrait of Albert Einstein by S.N. Swamy, 1950, signed by both, is valued at $7,000 to $10,000. Several additional signed portraits of Einstein—original drawings as well as etchings and photographs—are being offered, as well as letters and ephemera.

An Autograph Letter Signed in French by Alexis de Tocqueville to the Charles Gosselin Library, detailing the terms of the publication of his Democracy in America, 1837, is expected to sell for $10,000 to $15,000 (though de Tocqueville only received 3,000 Francs for his work).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is well-represented in the sale, with personal items including a circa 1926 Autograph Manuscript Signed outlining his conception of spiritualism, and a Typed Letter Signed June 7, 1930, arranging a séance ($3,500 to $5,000 and $700 to $1,000, respectively).

The sale provides myriad tangible connections to the past, from Agatha Christie’s personal circa 1948 notebook from Baghdad, containing more than 150 Autograph Manuscript pages of notes and drafts for several of her early novels and plays, to the bars to the theme from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3, jotted on March 21, 1888, in London, a day before performing the piece at St. James’s Hall ($4,000 to $6,000 and $7,000 to $10,000, respectively). The oldest autograph in the sale is that of the Medieval Czech priest Jan Hus, whose signature “Hu?” appears in the margin of a vellum fragment from a manuscript Breviary, circa 1400, estimated between $4,000 and $6,000.

The auction will be held Thursday, May 4, beginning at 1 p.m. The auction preview will be open to the public Monday, May 1 through Wednesday, May 3 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, May 4 from 10 a.m. to noon, and by appointment.

An illustrated auction catalogue is available for $35 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

Image: Lot 7 Ernest Hemingway, Autograph Letter Signed to Marlene Dietrich, discussing The Old Man and the Sea and expressing love, Cuba, August 1952. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000.