A Visit with Jeremy Markowitz at Swann Galleries
Markowitz puts the phenomenal framed Lindberg letter away and goes on to show me another breathtaking item. “Here we have a John Brown letter [Lot 43, also reproduced as the catalogue’s rear cover illustration]. It’s one of a series of letters that he wrote from jail. What strikes me most about this letter is its immediacy and its sense of urgency. Talking about some purported misrepresentation of his remarks, Brown writes: ‘…there is a most gross and intentional misrepresentation of them [his remarks] & had I the time I would expose them.’ Notice that these words are underlined. This letter was written just two days before Brown’s execution. With the underlining it really reads as if he is so hyper aware of just how little time he had left. We could locate only one other letter by Brown written on that day – that letter was sold at the Sang sale. There are no known Brown letters dating from the day of his execution, making this one of the last letters, possibly the last letter, he wrote from jail before dying. And this letter fits into so many overlapping Americana fields – you could buy it as a Civil War piece, a slavery or abolition piece, as African-American history, as a piece relating to reconstruction…the list goes on. In many ways I feel that John Brown is one of our great underrated American icons,” says Markowitz, a thought with which I heartily concur.
After replacing the poignant Brown letter on the shelf, Markowitz pulls out another of his favorite items. This one I salivate over too. It is Lot. 16, a 1900 letter in which Susan B. Anthony, then a very old lady, writes to Hamilton Holt, agreeing to send him an article but also suggesting that he contact her best friend and frequent collaborator Elizabeth Cady Stanton as well for her perspective. It reads in part: “…Would you not be just as well pleased with an article from Ms. Elizabeth Cady Stanton...I know she will be overflowing with recollections of our life long friendship and our half century’s work together for the emancipation & enfranchisement of women…” I ask Markowitz why this letter captures his attention. “Women’s history, I am learning, is a rapidly growing field within Americana,” he replies. “I was I must admit quite surprised that in our October sale a female Indian captivity letter sold not to a ‘traditional’ Americana collector, as it would have years ago, but to a women’s history collector.” As someone who calls myself a collector in this sub-field, I can’t agree more and I marvel over this short but sweet piece which neatly ties together two of the major feminist icons of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries.
Next, Markowitz tells me about another run of material in the sale that is dear to his heart. “We have this run of New York material [Lots 80-83]. A family brought it in. It had been their grandfather’s. It was lots of material, all in the original auction envelopes from the 1918’s to 1920’s. By looking at this entire run of material you really can see what this guy collected. On his own, he crafted this flawless collection of material by and about New York’s British Colonial Governors. There’s an example of the mind of a true collector at work – he just chose a narrow enough topic and collected all he could on it. It turns out that he had amazing foresight.”