Auctions | June 21, 2023

Civil Rights, Peter the Great, and Mark Twain Autographs Lead University Archives Sale

University Archives

Mark Twain's autograph

Autographed material from the Civil Rights movement, art, business, science, and military feature in University Archives next Rare Autographs, Photographs, Books sale on June 28.

One of the strongest categories is Civil Rights history, including a two page typed letter signed by Martin Luther King, Jr. on Dexter Avenue Baptist Church stationery dated November 13, 1958. At that time, MLK, Jr. was recuperating from a recent unsuccessful assassination attempt, while simultaneously trying to plan and budget for a 10-day side trip to the Soviet Union in early 1959. One of the reasons why MLK, Jr. wanted to visit was to observe firsthand Soviet attitudes towards people of color: “As a Negro I have special concern with the influence that Soviet theory and practice have had upon the millions of colored peoples who populate the less industrially developed areas of the world…” His reasons for wanting to go, outlined in this letter, show how ambitious his plans were.

Lot 79 is a rare Walt Disney signed sketch of Mickey Mouse. By the 1940s he very infrequently drew Mickey himself. Included in the lot is a sheet with additional autographs and sketches from Walt Disney Studios employees, among them the animators of Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, Bacchus, and J. Thaddeus Toad. Disney and staff drew and signed the sketches during a 1941 goodwill trip to South America which resulted in their animated pictures Saludos Amigos (1943) and Three Cabelleros (1945).

Also going under the hammer is a vintage Warner Brothers’ press photo of a young Ronald Reagan in football gear, boldly signed by him as “Win one for the Gipper / Ronald Reagan”. Reagan’s inscription referred to one of his most famous movie roles in the 1940 Warner Brothers’ picture Knute Rockne, All-American. Reagan played George Gipp, the Notre Dame All-American football player who tragically died of complications of pneumonia shortly after securing a victory over Northwestern. “Gipper” stuck with Reagan all the way to the White House.
Lot 201 is a letter boldly signed by Peter the Great, one of the most coveted of royal autographs. The letter in Russian Cyrillic is dated October 18, 1710 and was addressed Frederick I, King of Prussia and Elector of Brandenberg, the tsar’s future ally in an anti-Swedish coalition during the Great Northern War. On the surface of the letter, Peter I congratulated Frederick on the birth of a grandson, but the subtext is clear: Peter was sending personal greetings in order to maintain good diplomatic relations with his neighbor and military ally.

Mark Twain appears in lot 208 through a 26 page autograph letter signed by Samuel Clemens, dated December 1893. The letter paints a loving, intimate portrait of Clemens’ relationship with his wife Livy and their three daughters Susy, Clara, and Jean. Other important literary and business topics range from Twain’s request of Bram Stoker of a Henry Irving photograph for Livy, and more worrying details about Twain’s heavy investment in Paige’s typesetting machine which would soon lead to his bankruptcy.