Auctions | June 16, 2014

Franklin, Lincoln, & Einstein Autographs Led Swann Galleries’ May 22 Auction


NEW YORK—A strong selection of presidential autographs and letters written by some of the greatest minds of the 20th century drew bidders to Swann Galleries’ auction of Autographs on May 22.

The sale’s top lot was a Benjamin Franklin autograph letter signed to a surgeon-apothecary relating the circumstances of Franklin’s invention of the flexible catheter and explaining its construction, London, 17 September 1760, which brought $50,000*.

Appearing at auction for the first time was an autograph manuscript signed by Abraham Lincoln, his notes from the Lincoln-Douglas debate at Galesburg, circa 1858, which far exceeded its $8,000 to $12,000 estimate to sell for $32,500.

Additional presidential highlights included a George Washington Autograph Manuscript, unsigned, a fragment from the first draft of the first inaugural address, April 1789, $20,000; a partly-printed document signed by Washington as President and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, Philadelphia, December 1793, $16,640; and an elegant photograph of John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, signed by both, as well as photographer Richard Avedon, 1961, $11,520.


A run of lots related to Albert Einstein performed particularly well, with a photograph of the physicist seated with fellow Nobel Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore, which was signed by both, 1931, realizing $35,000; a typed letter signed to Joseph Levine, stating that physical theory and religious belief are independent of each other, Princeton, March 1954, $30,000; and a TLS to student Dale B. Swanson, explaining some properties of mass and energy as they relate to velocity at the speed of light, Princeton, January 1954, $17,500.

Another signed photograph of note was a portrait of Sigmund Freud, signed and inscribed to his friend Dr. Smiley Blanton, in German, May 1930, $16,250.

Some outstanding examples of literary autographs included one of the earliest Virginia Woolf autographs to appear at auction, a photograph of herself (at 14), with sister Vanessa and step-sister Stella Duckworth, signed by all on the mount below the image, 5 March 1896, $15,360; a group of 11 items signed by Flannery O’Connor, including seven typed letters and four Christmas cards, each to her Georgia State College for Women teacher and friend George H. Haslam, 1952-59, $12,500; a Leo Tolstoy signed cabinet card bust portrait, circa 1902, $7,500 and a François Marie Arouet de Voltaire letter signed that referenced his earlier letter to the King of Prussia that contained notorious remarks on Christianity, October 1769, $7,500.

Also from the 18th century—and also notorious—was a Benedict Arnold autograph letter signed to his future wife, expressing his affection, September 1778, $9,375.

Additional highlights included an autograph manuscript signed by Daniel D. Emmett, the complete five verses of his song Dixie, 1896, $10,000 and a group of seven books by various authors, all signed and inscribed by N.C. Wyeth to different recipients, which brought a price of $6,500 against an estimate of $500 to $750.

For complete results, an illustrated catalogue, with prices realized on request, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to propose consignments to upcoming Autographs auctions, please contact Marco Tomaschett at (212) 254-4710, extension 12, or via email at

*All prices include buyer’s premium.

First image: Benjamin Franklin, Autograph Letter Signed discussing his invention of the flexible catheter, London, 1760. Sold for $50,000 (including buyer's premium).

Second image: Photograph of Albert Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore, signed by both, 1931. Sold for $35,000 (including buyer's premium).