This first-edition presentation copy of A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South by Anna Julia Cooper sold to an absentee bidder for $15,000 (est. $6000/8000)—a new record for the title. Published in 1892 with a portrait frontispiece, the book has a pencil note in Cooper’s hand loosely laid in that presents it to Captain Wilbur F. Chamberlain of the 29th Ohio Volunteers.
This copy of Malcolm X’s first published piece, a five-page article in the Brooklyn-based Moslem World & The U.S.A.’s August-September 1956 issue, brought $17,500 (est. $3000/4000). The periodical featured Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad on the front cover as “Disciple and Teacher.” That issue was sold together with a run of the magazine from April-May 1956 through October-December 1956, along with the special convention issue, April-May 1957.
An absentee bidder paid a record $20,000 (est. $2000/3000) for a rebound first edition of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Written by Herself, the 1861 autobiography of Harriet Jacobs.
This 1 7/8" x 4" slave dealer’s business card sold for $4500 (est. $3000/4000). Published in Memphis, 1860-61, it advertised Hill, Ware & Chrisp’s “Great Negro Mart” at 87 Adams Street, Memphis, Tennessee. On its reverse is a note referring to one of the company’s principals, Hillman Chrisp.
An 1800-50 slave collar sold to the Smithsonian for $10,625 (est. $2500/3500).
Banneker’s Almanack, and Ephemeris for the Year of Our Lord 1793 sold for $52,500 (est. $10,000/15,000). Published in Philadelphia by Joseph Crukshank in 1792, it is 48 unnumbered pages with contemporary ownership signatures of members of the Caleb Kirk family of Providence, Pennsylvania. The price is a new record for the title.
A life-size (28¼" x 20") plaster bust of Frederick Douglass sold to a dealer in the room for $12,500 (est. $3000/4000). It was sculpted by Dayton Morgan of Chillicothe, Ohio, and patented in 1868. Swann could locate only one other example.
This 22½" x 15½" poster published in Atlanta by the Voter Education Project in the 1970s sold to the Smithsonian for $1375 (est. $600/800). The slogan is a play on Muhammad Ali’s 1964 claim “I am the greatest.”
This 30" x 23" Angela Davis poster, designed and produced in 1971 by Richard McCrary, with lithography by Afro-Arts Inc., sold to a phone bidder for $7500 (est. $600/800).
The personal scrapbook of U.S. Army nurse Della Hayden Raney (1912-1987) brought $5750 (est. $1500/2500). She was the first black nurse accepted into the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. She retired as a major in 1978, having earned the highest rank to be achieved by any black nurse who served during World War II. When Raney graduated from nursing school in 1937, the Army employed only white nurses. In January 1941, when the Army Nurse Corps finally admitted blacks, there was a limit of 56, and they were allowed to care only for black servicemen.
The 103-page illustrated Travelguide 1953, published in Philadelphia in 1952 for the use of “colored families,” made $4000 (est. $2000/3000). Swann photo. Swann Galleries, New York City, March 27, 2014.
Swann Galleries, New York City
Photos courtesy Swann Galleries
Swann Galleries’ annual printed and manuscript African-Americana sale is a continuing education for me, often a grim one. I’ve seen, for example, a number of slave shackles over the years. At this year’s sale, on March 27, there was something new to ponder: a slave collar. Asked about its rarity, department specialist Wyatt Houston Day said he has “handled only two others.” A consignment from a private collection, this one sold for $10,625 (est. $2500/3500). (Prices include the buyers’ premiums.)
The collar was made of two semicircles of hand-wrought iron during the first half of the 19th century. The halves were joined by a fixed hook and eye with what Day described as a “primitive but effective locking mechanism.” The surface of the iron was incised with a repeating design that reminded Day of graphic symbols commonly seen in West Africa. The similarity led him to conclude: “It is possible that the blacksmith who made this collar was of African descent, as was not uncommon on the plantations of the South.” In other words—another grim lesson here—a slave was forced to make the collar for his brother.
A sheet of paper handwritten in Frederick County, Maryland, was a remnant of a different kind of restriction for Americans of color during the same period. Its purpose was to allow Harriet Lawson, a free black woman, to visit her husband, Caleb. Following the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831, Maryland established “some of the most Draconian laws in the entire South,” Day wrote in his catalog. One of those laws required free blacks to carry what in essence was a passport. The item, approximately 4" x 8" and dated 1832, fetched $4000 (est. $500/750).
More than 100 years after Lawson was issued her passport, the travel of African-Americans was still being controlled in the United States and elsewhere in other, subtler ways. “Vacation and recreation without humiliation” was the motto of a rare travel guide for the use of “colored families” that was published in Philadelphia in 1952. As Day commented, this 103-page volume “would have been indispensable for African-American travelers facing discrimination at hotels, motels, and filling stations across the American South and elsewhere.” The guide, first issued in 1946, was arranged alphabetically, covering states from Alabama to West Virginia. Also included were some suggestions for Canada, Mexico, Haiti, and the Caribbean, as well as the Philippines. Day could find no copy of Travelguide 1953 in institutional collections, and this one sold for the same price as the passport, $4000 (est. $2000/3000).
Collectors may be more familiar with a similar guide, The Green Book, produced in Harlem by Victor H. Green from the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s. Internet sources say the print runs were 15,000. Nonetheless, today they are extremely rare. “You can just about name your price for one of those,” said Day.
Two bidders who usually win multiple lots at these sales bought in bulk yet again. One was the William Reese Company of New Haven, Connecticut, whose specialist Terry Halladay, bidding by phone, bought nearly 50 lots for stock and both public and private collections. The other major bidder, in the room, was the Smithsonian Institution, whose representatives are collecting material for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Not yet housed in a building of its own, the collection will have one before too long. Construction is due to be completed in late 2015.
The Smithsonian took many of the sale’s top lots, including the most expensive one. That was Banneker’s Almanack, and Ephemeris for the Year of Our Lord 1793, for which the institution paid $52,500 (est. $10,000/15,000). The little (48-page) pamphlet, published by Joseph Crukshank of Philadelphia in 1792, was produced by Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), an 18th-century man of color who was a self-taught astronomer, mathematician, surveyor, and author. Only seven other copies of this almanac are known to be in institutional collections, and, according to Swann’s research, no copy has appeared at auction in the last 25 years. A defective copy of Banneker’s 1796 almanac sold at Swann on February 28, 2006, for $10,350.
By definition almanacs are local and ephemeral. Banneker’s annual publications, however, grew to be nationally significant. He sent a copy of the first one—Benjamin Banneker’s Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Almanack and Ephemeris, for the Year of Our Lord, 1792—to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson as evidence of what African-Americans could achieve in scientific fields. That letter and Jefferson’s reply were reprinted in the 1793 edition. It also included “A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States,” written by Benjamin Rush, a Quaker physician who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The letters, plus the idea that the almanac was produced by an African-American, were what made it go viral, in today’s parlance. The Crukshank edition sold out completely, and a second edition was published by Goddard and Angell of Baltimore in a slightly different form. Through 1797, 12 printers in seven cities published 28 editions of Banneker’s almanacs. Banneker continued to make his calculations until 1802, but by then the antislavery movement had cooled, and without its support he was unable to get the almanacs published.
An archive of the Bourne family, whose patriarch, George Bourne (1780-1845), was a minister, journalist, and abolitionist, sold to an institution via William Reese for $37,500 (est. $40,000/60,000). The hundreds of items, both in manuscript and print, included letters, documents, fliers, broadsides, and pamphlets dating from 1793 through 1919. George Bourne, a British native who immigrated to Virginia and became incensed by its plantation system, was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. A manuscript copy of one of his lectures, delivered in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1837, was included in the lot. “It was the first time I have seen such a thing for a known and notable antislavery lecture,” said Day. “So that unto itself was very rare. But it was his son Theodore—that was the real focus of interest.”
Theodore Bourne (1822-1886) was a minister and cofounder of the African Civilization Society. That organization fostered a plan for an African-American settlement and a cotton-growing enterprise in the Niger Valley. To this end Theodore worked with prominent black abolitionist-emigrationists Robert Campbell and Martin R. Delany. The archive included correspondence from Africa from both of them, along with copious correspondence from both British and American supporters of the plan, e.g., Lord Alfred Churchill and Benjamin Coates. “That’s material that you just never see,” said Day. “So in that regard alone, this archive was a real gem.”
A collector bidding as an absentee paid $20,000 (est. $2000/3000) for a first edition of Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Written by Herself. “The action on that really floored me,” said Day of the bidding, which resulted in a new record price for the title. “The importance of the book notwithstanding, it was a rebound copy that should have made about what the estimate was, but I think I have an explanation.” He named as a possible influence the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave. “I think the enthusiasm for the book had something to do with the fame of and reaction to that film, combined with the appeal of slave narratives in general,” said Day. “When we can get hold of the real thing, when they tell a real, unvarnished story—these are very much in demand.”
There was a time when the genuineness of the Jacobs book was in doubt. It was published in Boston as a slave narrative “for the Author” in 1861. For many years, however, people believed it to be a fictional story written by its editor, abolitionist and popular 19th-century author Lydia Maria Child. Scholar Jean Fagan Yellin proved not only the reality of Jacobs (1813-1897) but also that Jacobs was indeed the author of the autobiographical book, and in 1987 it was reprinted with Yellin’s commentary by Harvard University Press.
Yellin, now professor emerita at New York’s Pace University, collected hundreds of primary source documents during her decades’ long research. She also published Harriet Jacobs: A Life (2004), the biography of this remarkable woman, who escaped from slavery, hid in an attic for seven years, and went on to become an activist, lecturer, and author of this now classic slave narrative. For more information see the Web site
A first-edition presentation copy of A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South by Anna Julia Cooper also did remarkably well, selling for $15,000 (est. $6000/8000). Like the Jacobs price, it is a new auction record for the title. Published in 1892, the book is a compilation of essays, lectures, and speeches. Adding to its value, this copy has a pencil note in Cooper’s hand loosely laid in that presents it to an officer of the 29th Ohio Volunteers. The note reads: “To Captain Wilbur F. Chamberlain Compliments & high regard of Anna J. Cooper, Instructor in languages at Lincoln Institute.” Cooper taught briefly, 1906-10, at Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri. For more information about Cooper, an early feminist, educator, and activist, see the Web site (http://cooperproject.org).
Several rare Frederick Douglass items brought noteworthy sums. One was a life-size plaster bust of the great orator that sold to a dealer in the room for $12,500 (est. $3000/4000). Its sculptor was Dayton Morgan of Chillicothe, Ohio, who with this sale has an auction record by default. It is the only auction price listed on the Internet sites I consulted. There is a patent number on the back of the bust. The design was registered on August 4, 1868, together with a photograph of a middle-aged Douglass that conforms to it. Morgan may have intended to produce at least a few copies, but this is the only one Swann could locate.
The consignor was a picker from the Midwest, said Day, who described him as “a really, really nice guy who drives around the country with his dad in a van looking for little auctions, tag sales, and whatever.” One day they were at a small auction at an unnamed location, saw the bust, bid, and won it. “Then they drove all the way to New York to show it to me. I would have died if that hadn’t sold—it was just so beautiful. All it needs is restoration to its surface.”
A rare printed copy of Douglass’s Lecture on Haiti sold to a phone bidder for $6500 (est. $3000/5000). The 57-page booklet, published in Chicago in 1893, is a transcription of a speech that Douglass delivered at the Haitian Pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair, arguing for Haiti’s statehood. Swann could find only one copy in an institutional collection.
A printed copy of another Douglass speech, delivered on April 14, 1876, at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C., achieved $5500 (est. $4000/6000). The monument is notable for having been paid for by African-Americans. Its design by Thomas Ball was controversial, however, and continues to be. It depicts Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation in one hand and his other hand extended to a shackled, kneeling slave. Douglass was reported to have departed from his prepared remarks to criticize the slave’s submissive posture, opining that “a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.” As for the official text, it is notable for being quite frank in its fair assessment of Lincoln. Douglass said, for example, “Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the Negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery.” A complete transcript is available on line (http://teachingamericanhistory.org).
I’ve seen a slave dealer’s business card at a past Swann sale, but the one offered this time had a significant, sinister association. Produced in 1860-61, it advertised Hill, Ware & Chrisp’s “Great Negro Mart” at 87 Adams Street, Memphis, Tennessee. According to the catalog, the property was once a large slave yard owned by Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877), later known for his postwar connection with the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. Attached to the slave yard was his large and impressive home. In July 1859, he sold the property to Byrd Hill, a friend and business associate, who teamed up with Hillman Chrisp. Hill and Company even cited the fact that the yard had belonged to Forrest in its later advertising. On the card’s reverse is this interesting inked note: “[illegible] Jones./ Send me a vile [sic] of fine Branday [sic]/ Hillman Chrisp.” It was signed “R. Griffith.” The card, not quite 2" x 4", sold to the Smithsonian for $4500 (est. $3000/4000).
Some 20th-century material has done ridiculously well at these sales. This time, results were merely strong. An Angela Davis poster, for example, went way past its $600/800 estimate, selling to a collector on the phone for $7500. Designed and produced in 1971 by Richard McCrary, with lithography by Afro-Arts Inc., it features a poem by McCrary and an image of Davis in her signature Afro hairdo and with her hand in a clenched fist. Beneath her likeness, the caption reads “I Am a Black Woman.”
A poster that advertised a theatrical performance for the benefit of Eldridge Cleaver “and Other Black Panthers in Jail” sold to the Smithsonian for $6500 (est. $1500/2500). It was published in New York City by the Radical Theatre Repertory, a New York-based booking agency later known as the Universal Movement Theatre Repertory. The evening of drama took place at the Fillmore East. That puts the poster’s publication date before June 27, 1971, when the famed venue closed. The production was, for the most part, written and directed by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and Ed Bullins, the Black Panthers’ minister of culture. The catalog characterized the item as a “very scarce poster, printed in small number on thin, fragile paper.”
A copy of the famous Huey Newton poster showing the Black Panther Party’s minister of defense wearing a beret and sitting in a fan-back wicker chair, a spear in one hand, rifle in the other, sold to a phone bidder for $6500 (est. $4000/6000). Another copy of the 1968 relic has sold previously at Swann for what might be termed crazy money. On March 10, 2011, one went to a collector for $19,200 (est. $1500/2500), but even at the time, Day said he knew that kind of value wouldn’t last as more copies came to market.
A copy of Malcolm X’s first published piece, a five-page article, sold to a collector on the phone for $17,500 (est. $3000/4000). Its lengthy title reads: “We Were a Dead people...but When we Heard Messenger Muhammad...WE AROSE FROM THE DEAD!” It was sold as part of a run of Moslem World & The U.S.A., the magazine in which it appeared in August-September 1956. Published in Brooklyn by Abdul Basit Naeem, the short-lived publication was the first illustrated monthly journal of Islam published in the United States. Malcolm X was minister of Muhammad’s Temple of Islam #7 in Harlem at the time. Swann research shows only six institutional holdings of this periodical, and not all are complete.
What Swann called the largest and most complete Pullman porter collection that it has ever handled sold to the Smithsonian for $17,500 (est. $15,000/25,000). Dating from the 1920s through the 1960s, the lot included clothing and equipment for both male and female employees: a ticket puncher, stepstool, pencils, ashtray, hat bag, cap, two Pullman clothes hangers, instruction manuals for porters, busboys, and maids, identification for a Pullman maid, an insurance policy for a Pullman porter, a Pullman porter’s blue dress jacket and a white dress jacket, packs of playing cards, three packages of soap, Pullman towels dated 1921, 1926, and 1930, a blanket, clothes brushes, photo identification for Percy Davis, with his certificate of 44 years of service, and a Milwaukee railroad pass for him and his wife, plus Pullman porter-related ephemera, including Pullman porter photos, toy figures, and a 1930 novel about a Pullman porter. In short, it had all the makings of a great museum exhibition.
The sale as a whole totaled $793,276 on an offering of 592 lots, 374 (63%) of which sold. One major lot that failed to sell was an archive of 97 pieces of George Washington Carver correspondence (est. $80,000/120,000). The letters discussed various topics, including agricultural lecture tours, racism, conditions during the Great Depression, Tuskegee Institute life, the Christian Science Church, national government policy, polio treatments, massage and oil therapy, painting, and gardening. Written by Carver during the period 1925-37 to a friend and supporter, Mrs. Sophie Liston, the material came from her descendants. It was not a fresh discovery, however, having been previously offered and unsold by Heritage Auction Galleries on October 17, 2008 (est. $110,000/150,000).
“It had been offered during the worst days of the economic downturn,” Day observed. “The time seemed right to offer it again. We’ll see about reoffering it down the line.”
A large batch of military items from the collection of William Gladstone (1929-2012) was another disappointment. A scholar of the United States Colored Troops of the Civil War, Gladstone wrote well-regarded books on the subject and contributed scores of items from his collection to institutions, including the Smithsonian. The majority of the items, including the sale’s cover lot—a rare Civil War broadside seeking the recruitment of “able-bodied Colored Men” (est. $15,000/20,000)—were passed.
“I would like to have seen a little more action on the military material,” said Day. “But I think we’re always guessing. As much as I take the whole sale apart every year, trying to see if there’s a trend in one direction or another, there really is no way to tell. You never know whether the heavy hitters are looking to fill out one area or another.”
Until next year, pickers and others will undoubtedly continue to search out items for this market, unpredictable though it may be. “And as I’ve told you in the past, I don’t care if it’s for the most mercenary of reasons,” Day said. “If that’s why some of this material is saved from being tossed into a Dumpster, I’m happy.”
For more information, phone the gallery at (212) 254-4710 or see the Web site (www.swanngalleries.com).
Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest