Outstanding Music Autographs, Einstein Correspondence, & Americana at Swann Galleries


New York—Swann Galleries’ auction of Autographs on Tuesday, November 26 offers an exceptional collection of musician autographs—the likes of which are rarely seen at auction—in addition to a strong section of Americana, letters from Albert Einstein as he worked on his general theory of relativity, presidential material, writers and more.

The top pre-sale estimate in the sale is for an Autograph Musical Manuscript by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, bars 57-70 of the sixth movement of his Serenade in D major, Vienna, July-August 1773—when the prodigy was 17 years old. It is estimated at $120,000 to $180,000.

There is a fragment of an unsigned Autograph Manuscript by Ludwig van Beethoven that includes a reference to composer and pianist Carl Czerny ($8,000 to $12,000); a letter from Gustav Mahler early in his career to a reviewer, thanking him for the sympathetic response to his music after his debut in Berlin and recounting the repeated rejections and misunderstandings he had endured prior, Hamburg, 30 March 1895 ($8,000 to $12,000); an Autograph Letter Signed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Leipzig, 1 March 1889, which contains a reference to an “engrossing task” that might very well be work on his Symphony No. 5 ($5,000 to $7,500); and an Autograph Letter Signed from Richard Wagner, Zurich, 16 March 1858, requesting that the recipient convey his greetings to Franz Liszt and asking after him ($5,000 to $7,500).

There are also items from Georges Bizet, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvorák, Edvard Gieg, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Sergey Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Dmitri Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Giuseppe Verdi and many others.

From the late 20th century is an Autograph Musical Quotation Signed by John Williams—two bars from the theme music he composed for Star Wars ($100 to $200).


The auction includes three lots of letters from some of the greatest minds of 20th century physics, which were written to mathematician and theoretical physicist Paul Hertz—a relative of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz. In 1910, Hertz’s work brought him into contact with Albert Einstein, with whom he had some disagreements, and the resulting correspondence touches upon some of the most important moments and ideas in Einstein’s life. For example, there is a group of five Autograph Letters Signed from Einstein in German, which include an invitation for Hertz to discuss his paper on thermodynamics, Einstein sharing his own frustration in confronting problems arising during the development of the general theory of relativity, him noting weaknesses in the current version of the theory and criticizing Hertz’s proposed solution to the “hole argument,” 1910-15 ($70,000 to $100,000 for the group). Another group, this one with three signed items, shows another side of Einstein, as it contains his criticism of Hertz, calling him a coward, stating that a similar failing is responsible for the political crisis, and then a profuse apology, along with Hertz's original letter sent in reply, October 1915 ($20,000 to $30,000). The final Hertz lot consists of 17 letters from physicists and other scientists—including Max Planck—in German, on thermodynamics, black-body radiation, relativity and other topics, 1906-52 ($10,000 to $15,000).

A strong selection of Americana includes a Printed Letter Signed by James Madison, as Secretary of State, summoning Congress to ratify the Louisiana Purchase, Washington, 18 July 1803 ($10,000 to $15,000); and Civil War material, such as an ALS from Robert E. Lee, as Superintendent of West Point, expressing regret at his departure from the Corps of Engineers to accept an appointment as Lt. Colonel of the 2nd Cavalry, and stating his preference for Engineer duty to that of Cavalry during peacetime, 13 March 1855 ($25,000 to $35,000); and an ALS from future president James Garfield as Union Brigadier General, expressing that he is “disheartened at the weak and imbecile way in which the war is managed,” Washington, 25 October 1862 ($1,000 to $1,500).

Two Typed Letters Signed by Theodore Roosevelt are of interest: one as Governor, charges New York City Mayor James J. Walker’s administration with political corruption and requests a response, Albany, 21 June 1932 ($1,500 to $2,500); the other, as President, was written to Representative Walter I. Smith, and presents arguments for the establishment of a fortified naval station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Washington, 20 January 1908 ($6,000 to $9,000). 

There is a Photograph Signed and Inscribed by John F. Kennedy to a female supporter of his first successful U.S. Senate campaign, showing him celebrating his victory at Boston's Statler Hotel, circa  4 November 1952 ($4,000 to $6,000).

Diverse highlights also include a Document Signed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain—Christopher Columbus’s patrons—from two weeks before the Santa María set sail, 25 July 1492 ($6,000 to $9,000); a nine-inch long scrolling marriage document from 18th century Scotland that lists more than 400 points the couple agreed upon, along with other family papers, 1706-89 ($600 to $900); an Autograph Letter Signed by Charles Dickens, to the Dean of Peterborough, arranging to perform A Christmas Carol, to an audience in December, 1 September 1855 ($6,000 to $9,000); a Signed and Inscribed copy of As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free, a poem composed by Walt Whitman for the 1872 commencement ceremonies at Dartmouth College,  inscribed 13 June 1884 ($1,500 to $2,500); and an Autograph Letter Signed by Annie Oakley of the Buffalo Bill Wild West show, which includes the line, “to be considered a lady has always [been] my highest ambition,” Paris, 6 July 1889 ($6,000 to $9,000).

The auction will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 26.

The Autographs will be on public exhibition Wednesday, November 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday, November 21, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Friday, November 22 and Monday, November 25, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday, November 26, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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 www.swanngalleries.com.

For further information, and to make arrangements to leave a bid or to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Marco Tomaschett at (212) 254-4710, extension 12, or via e-mail at mtomaschett@swanngalleries.com.

Live online bidding is also available via Artfact.com.

First image: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, autograph musical manuscript, bars 52-70 of the sixth movement of Serenade in D Major, Vienna, 1773 ($120,000 to $180,000).

Second image: Postcard written by Albert Einstein, from his correspondence with another physicist, 1915 ($20,000 to $30,000).

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