Fine Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana from Sotheby's

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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A few items from Sotheby's sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana

Sotheby's Fine Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana, comes to auction early this month on June 3rd. Living up to their reputation, Sotheby's has compiled a sale of superb work with a significant emphasis on autographed material. The items generally break down into categories of mainly signatures and imprints, with a sprinkling of books and maps, from America during the 18th through 20th century, material published by the Black Sun Press, autograph letters and works by significant people of the 19th and 20th centuries, with many authors, and finally printed works and autograph letters by 19th and 20th century artists. Let's take a look at some of the highlight lots in case you missed the catalogue or didn't have time to browse it.


Many Presidential and other famous American politicians’ autograph lots are available in the first third of the sale. Virtually every high profile name that held the highest political office in the country before World War II makes an appearance here, so if signed documents by Presidents are your fancy, this part of the sale is for you. In fact, other than Monroe, every renowned President has his autograph present (the ones omitted are Monroe, J.Q. Adams, William Harrison, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Garfield). With a lot of money, and I do mean a lot, one could conceivably begin a collection from scratch from this sale. If this were the case, I’d recommend looking at lot 46, a cache of 56 documents signed by George Washington while he was President and Director of the Potomac Company. Sure, he wasn’t President of the United States yet, but as one of, if not the most desired signature of American Presidents, 56 instances is a huge number. The lot is estimated for $250,000-350,000, so if you bought it for the low estimate, the average cost of one signature would be around $4,500, lower than many other individual signatures from Washington and other Presidents.


As mentioned previously, material from the Black Sun Press is prominently featured in the sale. If you’re not familiar, Black Sun was an English language press founded in Paris by American expatriates Harry and Caresse Crosby. It was initially started to publish the Crosbys’ own work, but after printing a limited edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher and receiving a positive response, they expanded to include other authors. Black Sun Press is known today for having published the early works of many writers such as D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce before they became better known. Their reputation also stems from having only printed limited editions of handmade books printed on high quality paper. Included in this sale are twenty-five lots published by Black Sun (lots 51-75). Works by both Crosbys as well as Lawrence and Joyce are available among others.


Further on down the line, a more generalized collection of books, autograph letters and other material is for sale. Twenty-four autograph letters and fourteen inscribed editions of Albert Camus that belonged to his American lover Patricia Blake are listed under lot 80, estimated $100,000-200,000, as is James Chadwick’s 1935 Nobel Prize Medal for physics and a collection of related material (lot 81, est. $200,000-400,000). Autograph letters and typed letters signed from famous authors such as Samuel Clemens (lot 83, est. $8,000-12,000), Charles Dickens (lot 89, est. $2,000-3,000), Arthur Conan Doyle (lot 94, est. $2,000-3,000), F. Scott Fitzgerald (lot 101, est. $3,000-5,000), Ernest Hemingway (lots 108 and 109), James Joyce (lot 114, est. $10,000-15,000) and Oscar Wilde (lot 153, $2,000-3,000) are all here. Some of the high profile books being sold are a first edition of 1,000 copies printed of Joyce’s Ulysses (lot 115, est. $30,000-50,000), a first edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (lot 143, est. $10,000-15,000), and a first edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly (lot 144, est. $6,000-8,000).

The sale concludes with material from artists, with drawings, sketches and paintings interspersed with autograph letters, manuscripts and art books. While the amount of lots is small, just twenty-one, the dollar amount estimated for some of the items is hefty. Francis Bacon’s “Tryptich with bull against screen” original drawing and autograph manuscript at lot 160 is estimated $200,000-300,000, and the 161st of 250 copies of Marc Chagall’s Le Cirque at lot 163 for $150,000-200,000. Lots 171-174 offer material by Joan Miro, and the sale’s final lot (177) is an autographed and inscribed copy of Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B & Back Again) estimated $1,500-2,500.


All in all the material offered in June’s Fine Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana is just what the sale name says. With a variety of material on many subjects on offer, there are excellent opportunities for additions to collections around the world.


Bidding in person, on the phone, and online begins at 10am EDT on June 3rd, 2014. The catalogue is available online here on Sotheby’s website. If you would like to bid online, please register here.