Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2005 Issue

One lot tells the story


An exceptionally important American newspaper

By Bruce McKinney

Copies of the United States Constitution printed in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1787, have been raising eyebrows for most of the 20th century. On November 19th at Freeman they also raised the record for a copy sold at auction running well beyond Freeman's $80,000 to $120,000 estimate to reach $180,000 hammer and $207,225 all in. This item has not always done so well.

In the spring of 1976 Sotheby's sold a copy for $2,000 to John Jenkins, the Texas dealer, who made it an important item in his 1976 Bi-centennial Catalogue and priced it at $85,000. It was eventually sold for something close to the asking price. The catch was that payment was in 85 monthly installments without interest. In time the deal washed out and Jenkins re-sold this copy for less. In 1983 Sotheby's auctioned another copy: this one for $24,000 and in 1987 another copy: this one for $100,000. In 1988 a bound volume of this newspaper including this issue and 307 others, trimmed and with repairs, brought $60,000, a bargain given all the additional material included.

In 1998 Christies sold a trimmed single issue with condition problems for $70,000 and in 2001 the 1988 bound volume returned to the rooms [Sotheby's] to be re-priced at $130,000. There it stood until November 19th last where, as the center piece of Freeman's four day Bi-centennial Celebration sale, it moved the chains well beyond Freeman's estimate and the existing auction record to settle at $207,225 with hammer, a new auction record by $70,000. It was purchased by the 19th Century Shop of Baltimore for stock. Tom Edsall, speaking for the firm about this purchase said, "this is the only unbound, untrimmed copy we have ever encountered and it was a bargain at the price."

Prior copies in the second half of the 20th century have been exclusively the domain of Sotheby's and Christies. This sale suggests buyers are increasingly aware of and prepared to place their bids where the material is offered even if the auction venue is beyond the zip codes that begin with 100. The world grows more open and international by the month if not the day. For consignor, Freeman's and the buyer this was a very successful effort.

This was not the only item of interest of course, only the most important.

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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