Sotheby's is Offering Some Serious Material

- by Announcement, Rare Book Hub staff

Sotheby’s New York Books and Manuscripts Department has an ambitious slate of sales scheduled for June 26, including three small but significant auctions to be conducted live.


The morning begins at 10:00 with the live auction of the Collection of Dr. Rodney P. Swantko. Rod  Swantko was born in Indiana in 1940 and became a specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery. He conducted his book collecting almost entirely by telephone bidding at major auctions and maintained a low profile in the book world, although he was a generous benefactor to both the Lilly Library at his alma mater, Indiana University, and the Newberry Library, Chicago. Dr. Swantko was also a passionate golfer, and that interest is reflected in his books. He died in 2022.


Swantko’s library is small in number, but not in impact. Books, manuscripts, and drawings meticulously integrate great rarities and significant presentation copies representing the most celebrated and widely read authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: from Frank Baum to Walt Whitman, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and from Edgar Allan Poe to Vladimir Nabokov. The printed books are complemented by vitally significant autograph manuscripts and original and iconic literary drawings.


The works range from novels of fantasy initially intended for children to some of the most significant experimental writings of the Lost Generation and the Beats, and from an inscribed copy of one of the leading candidates for the crown of “Great American Novel” to manuscripts that chronicle the development and codification of the sport of golf. For such a tight collection, the range of subjects represented in the Swantko library is remarkable as is its roster of authors.


Among the many highlights in the collection are Thomas Taylor’s original pencil and watercolor drawing for the cover of the first edition of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ($400,000–600,000); the Henry Bradley Martin–William Self copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems ($400,000–600,000), as well as three autograph poetical manuscripts by Poe, including the first eight stanzas of “For Annie” ($400,000–600,000); the autograph manuscript signed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of the second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four ($800,000–1,200,000); Sidney Paget’s original pen and ink and wash drawing of the illustration “The Death of Sherlock Holmes” for the short story “The Final Problem” ($250,000–350,000); a fine presentation copy of the first edition of  The Great Gatsby, in jacket, inscribed by Fitzgerald to his sister-in-law and her husband, signed “Scott and Zelda” ($180,000–250,000); and first American editions of Lolita inscribed by Nabokov, respectively, to Graham Greene ($180,000–250,000) and Vera Nabokov ($100,000–150,000), each with a butterfly drawing.


The Swantko Library will be followed by a live sale of some of the greatest poetry in the English language: Three Poets: William Blake, A. E. Housman, and Robert Frost. Blake will be represented by the Tuke-Rothschild-Blunt copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul (Bentley’s copy J), the first to appear at auction since the Houghton-Garden Ltd. copy (D) in 1989 ($1,200,000–1,800,000). This is a brilliant combined issue of the two poetry cycles printed in brown and black and colored by Blake and his wife, Catherine, in pen and watercolor in 1795. This is among the earliest of the six copies printed during Blake’s lifetime that remain in private hands.


Both Housman and Frost share with Blake the characteristics of popularity and accessibility. Each will be represented by comprehensive collections of their published works, mostly presentation copies, and extensive manuscript material. The Thomas E. Minckler Collection of A. E. Housman is the most substantial and significant collection ever to appear at auction—and the rival of any institutional collection focused on his poetry. The collection encompasses first, and some later fine and limited, editions of these three principal works, including a very uncommon presentation Last Poems that is accompanied by an autograph letter by Housman castigating book collectors. Indeed, the great strength of the Minckler Collection is its manuscript component, which comprises more than one hundred autograph letters signed (with a few postcards), mostly to his publisher, Grant Richards, and his brother, Laurence. The remarkable David Lowenherz Collection of Robert Frost is a comprehensive forty-year assembly of books, letters, and ephemera covering the entirety of Frost’s career. Indeed, this represents the most inclusive and important Frost assemblage to appear at auction. The Lowenherz Collection is particularly rich in important presentation copies, many inscribed with poetical quotations in Frost’s hand, including both the earliest (1915) and latest (1961) dated poems written out by Frost in one of his books. Each collection will be sold as a whole, each estimated at $400,000–600,000.


Rounding out the morning is another three-lot live sale, Founding Documents of the United States. This auction will feature strictly contemporary printings of all three of America’s founding—and fundamental—documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.


Sotheby’s New York sale day will continue at 2:00 in the afternoon with an eclectic online sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts. Just a few among the properties to be offered in the online auction—and representative of its variety—are one of six entirely autograph manuscript copies, and the only one to appear at auction, of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was specially written and illustrated by J. K. Rowling for “those most closely connected to the Harry Potter books” ($250,000-250,000); a fifth quarto edition of The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, London: R. Young for John Smethwicke, 1637, from the collection of George Steevens, now regarded as one of the three great eighteenth-century editors of Shakespeare; and the last recorded letter sent by Fred Noonan, Amelia Earhart’s navigator, before he and Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean ($20,000-30,000).


For further information on any of these auctions, contact Sotheby’s at or 212-606-7385.