February 4th is a date Americana collectors want to have circled on their calendars. Featuring a particularly strong array of revolutionary era and religious material, Swann Auction Galleries’ sale of Printed & Manuscript Americana promises not to disappoint with 324 lots offered. With a wide range of prices and Americana-related focuses, the sale carries broad appeal. Let’s take a look at some of the lots available.
The headline item for the sale has no competition. The Federalist papers needs little to no introduction. With 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, this pivotal item played no small role in securing the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Three copies appeared at auction last year, with condition a significant factor: prices ranged from approximately $50,000 to over $300,000. This copy is described as having minimal wear and is estimated $90,000 – 120,000 as lot 126.
The item with the second highest estimates of the sale is far more obscure. Many people save those with a collecting focus on Mormonism may never have heard of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. An early Latter Day Saint monthly newspaper (the second of its kind), a run of this periodical is extremely rare—Swann notes that only three other runs have come to auction in the last sixty years. The Messenger and Advocate was short-lived, being printed from October 1834 to September 1837, and this run is volumes I and II (of III), bound in one. It is estimated $50,000 – 75,000 and can be found at lot 188.
In November 2013, a landmark item was sold at auction at Sotheby’s. With a final hammer price of $14.2 million, the Bay Psalm, the first book printed in English in North America, set the record for highest price ever for a printed book. In Swann’s Printed & Manuscript Americana, a copy of the Bay Psalm is also available. No, this is not a first edition. However, this is still a special item, as it is a previously unknown 7th edition printed in Boston in 1693. No other copies have been traced. Interestingly enough, the original owner of the book, Jonathan Corwin, was a judge at the Salem Witch Trials. This edition is estimated $30,000 – 40,000 under lot 84.
Returning to revolutionary times, two copies of a work by Thomas Jefferson are being sold. Notes on the State of Virginia is available in both English, and French, as Observations sur la Virginie. This work was born out of a questionnaire circulated to America’s governors in 1781 by Francois Barbé-Marbois, a French diplomat stationed in Philadelphia, and contain the expanded answers from Jefferson who had recently completed his term as governor of Virginia. Both copies include a folding map of Virginia and surrounding states. The version in French is considered the first published edition and was printed in 1786. It is available as lot 155 and estimated $30,000 – 40,000. The English edition was printed the following year, and follows as the next item in the sale, lot 156, carrying an estimate of $25,000 – 35,000.
Even with the heavyweight items we’ve already gone through, there’s still an item that may prove to be the most iconic of the sale. Lot 171 is America’s most famous reward poster, that of the murderer of Abraham Lincoln. Entitled $100,000 Reward! The Murderer of our Late Beloved President, Abraham Lincoln, is Still at Large, this is a second issue of the second printing, coming days after the assassination. Estimated $20,000 – 30,000, this piece of history will make a fine visual centerpiece in many Americana collections.
With 324 total lots, Printed & Manuscript Americana is worth your time perusing. The catalogue is available online here. The sale goes live at 1:30 Eastern on February 4th, with a multitude of bidding methods available: in person, phone, fax email, and Swann’s website. Live online bidding is available via Invaluable.