• <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Malcolm X, typed manuscripts for the <i>LA Herald Dispatch</i> column "God's Angry Men," 1957.<br>$200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Frederick Douglass, Autograph Letter Signed to George Alfred Townsend, Washington, 1880.<br>$40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Carte-de-visite album featuring a previously unrecorded image of Harriet Tubman, 1860s.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Collection of documents from the Montgomery Improvement Association, Alabama, 1955-63. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Martin Luther King, Jr., working draft of the "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Alabama, 1963. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> <i>Benjamin Bannaker's Almanac</i> for 1795, Baltimore. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Collection of 41 letters addressed to Rebecca Primus, 1854-72.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Abby Fisher, <i>What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking</i>, first edition, San Francisco, 1881.<br>$10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Victor H. Green, <i>The Negro Motorist Green-Book for 1941</i>, New York, 1940. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Toni Morrison, <i>The Bluest Eye, </i>reviewer's copy, New York, 1971. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> THE PAPERS OF BREVET MAJOR GENERAL JOHN GROSS BARNARD (1815-1882), Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac. Estimate: $75,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> ALVIN LANGDON COBURN. London. With 20 photogravures by Coburn and text by Hilaire Belloc, London and New York: 1909. First edition. Est: $4,000-6,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> WILLIAM FADEN, A Plan of New York Island, with part of Long Island, Staten Island & East New Jersey. London: 1776. Estimate: $5,000-8,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> MAX BEERBOHM, Lord Curzon delivering an oration. Original drawing with collage. London, 1912. Est: $2,000-3,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> AMERICAN REVOLUTION, Recueil des Loix Constitutives des Colonies Angloises. A Philadelphie, et se vend a Paris: Cellot & Jombert, 1778. First collected edition in French. Estimate: $500-800
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN, Confederate General Joseph Johnston's copy of Sherman's General Orders No. 65 announcing the final agreement of Surrender, 27 April 1865. Est: $4,000-6,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> JOHN KEATS, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of Saint Agnes and Other Poems. London: Taylor and Hessey, 1820. First edition of Keats’s third book.. Estimate: $5,000-7,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> M. T. Cicero's Cato Major, or his discourse of Old-age: With Explanatory Notes. Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin, 1744. Est: $5,000-8,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> WINSTON S CHURCHILL, History of the English Speaking Peoples. London: Cassell, 1956-58. First editions. Est: $1,500-2,500
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. March 30, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Potter (Beatrix). The Tale of Peter Rabbit, first edition, first issue, [1901]. Part of an extensive, private Beatrix Potter collection. £15,000 - 20,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Dodgson (Charles Lutwidge). The Hunting of the Snark, first edition, with original printed dust-jacket, 1876.<br>£7,000 - 9,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Buckland Wright (John). Pervigilium Veneris: The Vigil of Venus, number 1 of 100 copies (Christopher Sandford's copy), Golden Cockerel Press, 1939.<br>£2,000 - 3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. March 30, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Kelmscott Press. Keats (John). The Poems, one of 300, orig. vellum, 8vo, Kelmscott Press, 1894. £1,800 - 2,200
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Greenhill (Elizabeth).- Morison (Stanley) and Kenneth Day. The Typographic Book, 1450-1935, bound in dark green goatskin by Elizabeth Greenhill, 1963. £6,000 - 8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Fitzgerald (F. Scott). The Great Gatsby, first edition, first state dust-jacket, New York, 1925. £25,000 - 35,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. March 30, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Dionysius, <i>Halicarnassensis</i>. Antiquitates Romanae, Editio princeps, Treviso, Bernardinus Celerius, 24 or 25 February, 1480. £4,000 - 6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Canon Law. [Laurentius Puldericus. Breviarum decreti], manuscript in Latin, on paper, [?Germany], [c. 1450].<br>£5,000 - 7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Swimming. Percey (William) The Compleat Swimmer: or, the Art of Swimming, first and only edition, by J.C. for Henry Fletcher, 1658. £5,000 - 7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. March 30, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Binding with silverwork by Anthony Nelme. The Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament and the New: : newly translated out of the original tongues, Oxford, John Baskett, 1716. £10,000 - 15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> George IV's copy. Nash (John, architect). The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, one of 10 copies, 1826. £8,000 - 10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Blake (William, 1757-1827). "With Dreams upon my bed thou scarest me & affrightest me with Visions", 1825. £700 - 1,000
  • <b>Auction Pierre Bergé & associés in association with Sotheby’s: Important Books and Manuscripts from the Library of Jean A. Bonna from the 15th to the 20th Century. Sale on April 26, 2017. Exhibition in London March 28-30</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Galileo, <i>Discorsi e Dimostrazioni matematiche.</i> Leyde, Elzevier, 1638. Original edition: only known copy of the first state. €700,000 – 900,000
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Fables illustrated by Benjamin Rabier. Paris, Tallandier, without date [ca. 1910]. Superb binding doubled in vellum decorated with painted and mosaic decors by André Mare illustrating four fables. €10,000 – 15,000
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Gustave Flaubert, draft for the preface of the <i>Memoir for the defense of Madame Bovary</i>, 15-30 January 1857. Exceptiona signed autograph manuscript. €40,000 – 60,000
    <b>Auction Pierre Bergé & associés in association with Sotheby’s: Important Books and Manuscripts from the Library of Jean A. Bonna from the 15th to the 20th Century. Sale on April 26, 2017. Exhibition in London March 28-30</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Boccace, <i>The Book of Praise and the Virtue of the Noble and Cleric Ladies.</i> Verard, 1493. First edition of the French version attributed to Laurent de Premierfait. €40,000 – 60,000
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Exceptional set of 15 original bindings by Jean de Gonet, on rare editions illustrated by Picasso, Matisse, Miro or original editions of Bataille or Radiguet.

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2012 Issue

Who Legally Owns This Signed Photograph?

Mahler-schoenberg

Gustav Mahler (left) and Arnold Schoenberg.

The New York Times recently reported on an ownership dispute in the works on paper field, in this case a signed photograph. It pitted the family of the individual who was originally given the photograph against an unrelated individual who now has it in his possession. This is a difficult subject for those in the books and works on paper field, it coming up all too frequently now. However, this one is not the same as most we hear of today, where a private individual and possessor is pitted against a government agency that once owned the paper. There, rules are frequently more clearly stated, and where they are, it is generally the possessor who holds the short stick. In this case, the dispute is between two private parties.

The picture was that of Gustav Mahler, a notable Viennese musical composer at the turn of the previous century. The recipient was Arnold Schoenberg, a younger man and admirer, and himself a notable composer. Schoenberg was also from Vienna, but later emigrated to America. It is believed the photograph was signed and given to Schoenberg in 1907. Certainly, it was no later than 1911, as that is when Mahler died. Schoenberg lived until 1951. He obviously treasured the picture of his mentor. A photograph of Schoenberg in his Vienna home shows the Mahler photograph in the background.

Schoenberg's daughter said she remembered seeing the photograph in her father's study in the 1950s. This would mean the picture came with him to America. She said she realized it was missing in the late 1980s when she was examining her father's archives. Only the frame was still there. It did not show up on an inventory of those archives taken in the early 1970s either.

Recently, the Schoenbergs became aware that Cliff Fraser of Los Angeles was offering the photograph for sale. They at first expressed an interest in buying it, but Fraser wanted a lot of money, and they became convinced the photograph came into his hands wrongly. That is not to say Mr. Fraser had done anything wrong, just that somewhere in the chain of possession between the 1950s and the present, it had wrongfully been removed from the Schoenbergs' possession.

This would sound very suspicious, a 35-year-old emergency room technician and late in life college student from Los Angeles possessing a photograph that clearly once belonged to the Schoenberg family from Austria. The Schoenbergs claimed that their father, who admired Mahler, never would have given this photograph away, nor would his wife and widow, who would have understood his wishes. However, Fraser came back with a plausible explanation. He produced a notarized statement from his grandmother, now in her 90s, saying her late husband had received the photograph as a gift from his teacher, Josef Schmid, when they lived in Brooklyn, before moving to California in 1958. Apparently, Schmid was a great admirer of Schoenberg, sent him letters, and Fraser says he even knows of a photograph of the two together. Perhaps Schoenberg gave it to Schmid. Additionally, Schmid was said to have studied under Alban Berg, a student of Schoenberg, so the photograph may have been given to Berg and then Schmid.

So, what happens if the two parties are not able to reach a settlement on the issue? Is the photograph Fraser's or the Schoenbergs'? It brings to mind cases where old government documents, most likely intentionally disposed of years ago, either sold, given away, or trashed, are seized from collectors. The government agency may have given the stuff away a century or two ago when it seemed to have no value, but statutes have been passed in many states that say it still is government property. Collectors may prevail if they can find a sales receipt, presuming one ever existed, but even if it did, who would keep it a hundred years? Collectors are forced to return items perhaps legitimately in their family for generations, or purchased from others who held them legitimately, because a statute enacted only recently says, retrospectively, it is still government property.

However, those cases are ruled by specific statutes that give the government priority over the holder. Without such laws, and this is a private person vs. private person, we probably can revert to the old adage: possession is 90% of ownership. It seems to me unlikely that Schoenberg or his wife would ever have given away what must have been a family treasure. Nor can one imagine why Berg or Schmid or both would do the same with a signed photograph of a notable composer if it were given to them. Still, if Fraser can show his grandfather was connected to someone who knew Schoenberg, or that he studied under a pupil of Schoenberg, that is quite a coincidence. It certainly establishes how the photo could have ended up in Fraser's possession without any wrongdoing on his part. Perhaps one of the earlier associates of Schoenberg in the chain “borrowed” the photograph from Schoenberg and forgot to return it? Or maybe Fraser's elderly grandmother has forgotten exactly what happened years ago? It's an interesting case, and one that hopefully you, as a collector, will never have to personally face.


A Letter to the Editor has been received regarding this story. Click here to read.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Now in press: 19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> <i>The First American Magna Carta. English Liberties.</i> Boston, 1721.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Babbage presentation to Peel, the man who killed the Difference Engine 1832
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> The Stamp Act. 1765
    <b>Now in press: 19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Central Park Photographs by Prevost 1862
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Salem Witch Trials. Wonders of the Invisible World 1693
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Mammoth print of Millie-Christine, "The Carolina Twins" c. 1868
  • <b>Seth Kaller:</b> “America the Beautiful”
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> George Washington, Tongue-in-Cheek, Writes James McHenry About His Wife or Mistress—But Funding the Continental Army is the Real Topic
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Young’s Map of the United States
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> President Lincoln & His Most Profitable Client, the Illinois Central Railroad
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Lincoln Thanks Former Pro-Slavery and Newly Republican Congressman for a Fiery Anti-Slavery Speech at a Philadelphia Campaign Rally
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> “A Visit From St. Nicholas” - great association copy inscribed by Clement C. Moore
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Einstein Agrees to Allow “a Short Book on the Hydrogen Bomb” to Use His Statement Made on Eleanor Roosevelt’s TV Show
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> The Building Blocks of Albert Einstein’s Creative Mind
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> A Unique Manuscript Map of Block Island Sound Including Fisher’s and Gardiner’s Islands, the Hamptons, and Montauk Point
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> J.R.R. Tolkien Writes his Proofreader with a Lengthy Discussion of the Lord of the Rings, Including Criticism of Radio Broadcasts of his Work
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Six Benjamin Franklin Signed Receipts – Including his Earliest Obtainable Autograph — Acknowledging a Donation to the Famous Library Company He Founded, and Five Payments for His Pennsylvania Gazette
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Sherman Dishes on Lincoln & Thomas, Meade, Sheridan, Halleck & Grant
  • <b>Bonhams, March 9. Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Kennedy Years</b>
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT. Autograph Manuscript Initialed ("E.B.B."), being the working notebook for the poems contained in <i>The Seraphim and Other Poems</i>. $400,000 to 600,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> WILDE, OSCAR. Two leaves, pp 31-34, from the first appearance of <i>The Picture of Dorian Gray in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine for July, 1890</i>, with Wilde's autograph revisions. $40,000 to 60,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Comedies, Histories and Tragedies; Published according to the true Originall Copies. Second Impression. [THE SECOND FOLIO.]</i> $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, March 9. Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Kennedy Years</b>
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> KENNEDY, JOHN FITZGERALD. Photograph Signed ("John F. Kennedy") and Inscribed, 8 x 10 inch gelatin silver print, of Senator Kennedy and Miss Barelli, at the swearing of the secretarial oath for Miss Barelli. $1,200 to 1,800
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> COOPER, JAMES FENIMORE. Autograph Manuscript, being Chapter XXVII of <i>Afloat and Ashore</i>. $15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> IRVING, WASHINGTON. Autograph Manuscript, being Chapter 20 from Volume IV of <i>The Life of George Washington</i>. $20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Bonhams, March 9. Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Kennedy Years</b>
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> VERNE, JULES. Autograph Manuscript Signed ("Jules Verne"), being the complete short story "<i>Une fantaisie de docteur Ox</i>". $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> ALCHEMY. <i>[The Crowning of Nature, or Coronatio Naturae.]</i> Original alchemical manuscript on paper, ruled in red, with watermark of the arms of Schieland. $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> DE JODE, CORNELUS. 1568 - 1600. <i>Quivirae Regnu, Cum Alija Versus Borea</i>. [Antwerp: Arnoldum Coninx, 1593]. $7,000 to 10,000
    <b>Bonhams, March 9. Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Kennedy Years</b>
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> HOOKER, JOSEPH DALTON. <i>The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya; Being an Account, Botanical and Geographical, of the Rhododendrons Recently Discovered in the Mountains of Eastern Himalaya</i>… $7,000 to 10,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> CATLIN, GEORGE. <i>North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting scenes and amusements of the Rocky Mountains and prairies of America. From drawings and notes of the author, made during eight years' travel.</i> $20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. HESLER, ALEXANDER. Platinum print, 8 3/4 x 6 3/4 in, of a beardless Lincoln, 1860.<br>$2,000 to 3,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions