Presidential Letters & Signed Photographs Among Highlights of Swann Galleries’ May Autograph Auction

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New York—On Thursday, May 22, Swann Galleries will offer an auction of Autographs that features strong Americana examples and presidential material, as well as autographs by scientists, musicians, writers, artists and more.

The sale opens with an excellent selection of Americana, which includes two George Washington autographs: one a letter signed as Commander-in-Chief, to the President of Congress Henry Laurens, requesting that Congress's decision about the ranks of Revolution officers be deferred, Valley Forge,  26 December 1777 (estimate: $20,000 to $30,000); and a partly-printed document signed by Washington, as President, three-language ship's papers for the Brigatine Mary of Elizabeth, traveling from Philadelphia to Hispaniola, countersigned by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Collector of Customs Sharp Delany. Philadelphia, 23 December 1793 ($8,000 to $12,000). Another American Revolution highlight is a Benedict Arnold autograph letter signed to his future wife, Peggy, expressing his affection for her and noting that he has written her father for approval of his advances, 25 September 1778 ($4,000 to $6,000).

There is also a Benjamin Franklin autograph letter signed to a surgeon-apothecary relating the circumstances of his invention of the flexible catheter and explaining its construction, London, 17 September 1760 ($20,000 to $30,000).

Choice Abraham Lincoln autographs include an autograph letter signed to Whig activist George W. Rives, replying to his request for a recommendation to a position in Minnesota, in which he says, “You overrate my capacity to serve you. Not one man recommended by me has yet been appointed to any thing, little or big, except a few who had no opposition,” Springfield, 7 May 1849 ($15,000 to $20,000); and an autograph manuscript signed “Lincoln,” within the text, notes from the Lincoln-Douglas debate at Galesburg, Illinois, circa 1858 ($8,000 to $12,000). 

Also from the 19th century is Daniel D. Emmett’s autograph manuscript dated and signed, five verses of his song Dixie, written on the same sheet below a brief autograph letter sending the manuscript, to “My Dear Miss,” additionally signed within the text, Trenton, 22 January 1896 ($7,000 to $10,000).

Twentieth-century presidents are well represented, with an archive of correspondence between Theodore Roosevelt and General Secretary of the American Tract Society Dr. Judson Swift, including three letters as President, on personal and political topics, 1908-18 ($10,000 to $15,000); a Roosevelt typed letter signed, to Secretary of the Progressive Party National Committee Oscar King Davis, expressing disappointment in the 1914 congressional election results, New York, 14 November 1914 ($7,000 to $10,000); a copy of the notorious Chicago Daily Tribune, with the headline "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN," signed and inscribed by Harry S. Truman on the first page, “It was a ‘mistake,’” 3 November 1948; inscription: 28 April 1965 ($6,000 to $9,000); and a photograph portrait of President and Mrs. Kennedy, signed by both and by photographer Richard Avedon, from the sessions Avedon conducted with the Kennedy family in Palm Beach, Florida, on January 3, 1961 ($12,000 to $18,000). 

Another image related to Kennedy is a group photograph signed by the nine justices of the Warren Court, showing them walking on Connecticut Avenue in JFK’s funeral procession, circa 1963 ($4,000 to $6,000).

A strong showing of scientists includes a Louis Pasteur photograph signed and inscribed, to Mrs. Jules Raulin, 1891—Jules Raulin was a French chemist and biologist who studied under Pasteur ($4,000 to $6,000); a Sigmund Freud photograph signed and inscribed to Dr. Smiley Blanton, a friend and psychoanalyst who co-founded with Norman Vincent Peale the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, 10 May 1930 ($10,000 to $15,000); a photograph signed by two Nobel Prize winners, Albert Einstein, with polymath Rabindranath Tagore, showing the two in conversation, 1931 ($7,000 to $10,000); and an Einstein typed letter signed, stating that physical theory and religious belief are independent of each other, and adding that he does not believe in a personal God, Princeton, 24 March 1954 ($4,000 to $6,000).

A range of material from writers features a carte-de-visite photograph signed “Nath’ Hawthorne,” ($10,000 to $15,000); one of the earliest Virginia Woolf autographs to appear at auction, a group photograph of herself (at 14), her sister Vanessa and step-sister Stella Duckworth, signed on the mount below the image, 5 March 1896 ($4,000 to $6,000); a photo portrait postcard signed by Mark Twain ($3,500 to $5,000); a cabinet card photograph portrait signed by Leo Tolstoy, July 1902 ($4,000 to $6,000); and a group of 11 items signed by Flannery O’Conner, including typed letters and Christmas cards, each to her Georgia State College for Women teacher and friend George H. Haslam, on literary, religious and personal topics, 1952-59 ($6,000 to $9,000).

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Musician highlights include an autograph letter signed by Guiseppe Verdi to his librettist, in Italian, Genoa, 26 December 1877 ($2,000 to $3,000); and a photograph signed and inscribed by George Gershwin, with an autograph musical quotation from Rhapsody in Blue, 22 November 1926 ($4,000 to $6,000).

From writers are a Gustav Klimt autograph postcard signed, to painter and friend Anton Peschka, in German, July 1912 ($1,200 to $1,800) and an Edvard Munch autograph letter signed, in Danish, stating that his handyman will assist in his painting, but he is no longer to care for his fruit trees or flowers ($1,500 to $2,500).

There is also an autograph letter signed by Frank Lloyd Wright to his architect apprentice Edgar Tafel asking him to convey Wright's response to the suggestion that he design a building for his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, which reads in part, “I am not seeking a job. I never have sought one and never will seek one. When I am employed I wish to be employed upon the architectural merit of my performance and not upon someone’s recommendation, client or no client. I have done enough so this merit is in evidence and I have been so employed only,” likely 1925 ($3,500 to $5,000).

The auction will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 22.

The Autographs will be on public exhibition Monday, May 19 through Wednesday, May 21, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, May 22, from 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 Invaluable.com.

First image: Benjamin Franklin, ALS describing his invention of the flexible catheter, 1760. Estimate: $20,000 to $30,000.

Second image: George Gershwin, signed photograph with autograph musical quotation from Rhapsody in Blue. Estimate: $4,000 to $6,000.

Auction Guide