Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2014 Issue

Fireworks in Americana in New York and Los Angeles

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I had occasion to preview Americana sales at Doyle and Swann this past week and in the days leading up to these sales it seemed like both would simply fit into the New York continuum of high level sophisticated activities so these New York sales would, at most, be commas, in the city’s cultural extravaganza.  Okay, let’s check that thought.  Auctions usually see 75% of their lots sell.  Swann consistently sells more lots and other houses less.  Doyle New York, the scrappy newcomer, looking to confirm their rising status in the auction field, employed even lower estimates to drive their percentage of lots sold even higher.  On the 24th, for Doyle, and 25th for Swann, we got to see how these strategies are working out.  In two words the answer is very well.

 

At Doyle there were three sales over two days, the 24th and 25th, but I’ll focus on their 324-lot dispersal of material from the New York Bar Association on the 24th.  It was breathtaking as every item sold, together bringing $2,367,267 or 235% of the total of the high estimates.  Buckram has never been so valuable.  I say this because many of the important rarities in the sale were rebound in durable library bindings as if the contents were not highly rare and important.  But, they were and certainly will be restored.

 

The following day at Swann the Printed & Manuscript Americana sale brought $1,109,257 against the aggregate high estimate of $837,330; 132% of the high estimate.  Three hundred and eighty-four lots were offered and 335 sold for an 87% success rate.  I bought 4 lots there myself.

 

Elsewhere on the 24th, at Bonhams in the ‘There’s no Place Like Hollywood” sale AE member Dr. Gary Milan let his Play it Again Sam upright piano from the movie Casablanca go for $3,413,000.  He acquired, from more than twenty sources, it and other related items more than thirty years ago.  For bidders with not quite so much money Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume from the Wizard of Oz [1939] sold for $3,077,000 in the same sale.  Gary, at 76, continues to collect.  “I can’t control it.”  It’s a feeling many of the greatest collectors share. 

 

So what can we make of this?  First, there are plenty of people with both taste and resources to buy the exceptional, rare and unique.  Their motivations vary widely.  Certainly some of the lawyers who dominated the buying at the Doyle sale were buying souvenirs in support of the New York Bar Association.  At Swann’s the material was solid, much of it obscure.  And at Bonhams?  Well, when wealth and emotion find themselves in the same place watch out.  The entire sale of 376 lots had a total high estimate of $2,112,600 and brought $9,177,841.

 

During the week of the 24th bidders were really feeling it.

 

Here are links to the results of all three sales:

 

Doyle New York:  The New York Bar Association

http://www.americanaexchange.com/auctions/auction_detail?id=7866

 

Swann Galleries:  Printed & Manuscript Americana

http://www.americanaexchange.com/auctions/auction_detail_report?id=7751

 

Bonhams:  There’s no place like Hollywood

http://www.americanaexchange.com/auctions/auction_detail?id=8267

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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