July 8: Fine Books & Manuscripts at Potter & Potter Auctions including a Force Declaration of Independence

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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Potter & Potter Auctions, a Chicago-based house started in 2007, has historically focused on magicana—antiques and collectibles focused on magic and magicians—but they also conduct sales including paper Americana, vintage advertising, rare books, coin-op, playing cards, gambling memorabilia, vintage posters, and prints. This month, on Saturday, July 8th, Potter & Potter is holding their inaugural sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts and Other Works on Paper, an auction consisting of 575 quality items falling into the following subjects: science & natural history; continental and British books and manuscripts; militaria; printed and manuscript Americana; cartography, travel, and sporting books; comic and illustration art; literature; art and posters; and entertainment.

The section on Americana contains many of the sale’s highlights, led by a Peter Force engraving of the Declaration of Independence, a single page taken from volume I of Force’s 1837-1853 series of books The American Archives. The engraving was produced using the same copperplate made by William J. Stone in 1820 who was commissioned by John Quincy Adams to make a facsimile of the original declaration because of its deteriorating condition. Only a few hundred copies are known to exist, and the collectability of such an item is self-evident. Force’s engraving is estimated $15,000 to $20,000 as lot 132.

Another significant item under the Americana header is a partially printed document signed by an American President whose presidential autograph is quite rare. James Garfield took office March 4, 1881 and served until September 19, 1881, when he died after being shot by Charles Guiteau in early July. With less than four healthy months as President, the number of documents that Garfield signed in office are far fewer than average. Lot 145 is the Appointment of Francis W. Seeley as Postmaster General at Sake City, Minnesota, dated March 22, 1881 and is estimated $10,000 to $15,000.

One final lot of Americana that I need to mention is lot 175, an extensive archive of over 100 letters, manuscripts, documents and FBI memorabilia, most which are signed, of Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent famous for his role in the captures of outlaws such as Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger in the 1930s. Purvis still has more captures of public enemies than any other agent in FBI history. Estimated $9,500 to $10,500, this archive would be equally excellent serving as the foundation for a new collecting focus or as an addition to an existing one.

Comics have been enjoying a boom in popularity and pricing for some time now, and lot 240 is a unique offering that comicphiles may find hard to resist. While first issues and particularly rare individual comics generate huge interest, the lot on offer here offers a different sort of uniqueness. Walter Gibson, author of The Shadow comic series, was tapped in 1931 to be the creator of the print version of the eponymous hero, who at that time was just a voice on the radio drama Detective Stories. Lot 240 is not only a complete run of The Shadow, from 1931 to 1944, but it is also Gibson’s personal set! It can be yours for an estimated $8,000 to $12,000.

Two final items, both from the Literature section of the sale, conclude this auction preview. Lot 298 is a pair of draft pages for James Fenimore Cooper’s final novel The Headsman. Written in Paris around 1832 or 1833, the pages are written in a small but neat script. The lot also includes a check filled out in Cooper’s hand, payable to “self” for $20. The Cooper lot is estimated $3,400 to $5,000. Another unique autograph lot, #359, belongs to Alan Ginsberg, being a five page autographed letter signed to the Symphony School, Mr. Loratz, and Students, in which the poet lists his “favorite musical compositions accumulated in ear / mind.” Similarly estimated to the prior lot, Ginsberg’s letter is estimated $3,000 to $5,000.

Potter & Potter Auctions’ sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts and Other Works on Paper is set to begin at 10 am CST on Saturday, July 8, 2017. Previews of the sale will be on July 5 through 7, from 10 am to 5 pm or by appointment. Online bidding and catalog viewing is available on BidSquare, and a PDF version, as well as a 3D catalog, are available on the Potter & Potter site. In addition to online bidding, interested bidders can bid live, via absentee bid, or by phone.