Issue #195  12/4/2012
Swann Sets House Auction Record With Sale of Curtis Set At $1.44 Million, and Over $2.7 Million Auction Total

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

The top lot in Swann Galleries' auction of Fine Photographs & Photobooks on October 4 was also the top lot ever sold at Swann in its 70-year history. A set of Edward S. Curtis's magnum opus, The North American Indian, complete with 20 text volumes and 20 folios, brought $1.44 million dollars, just short of the low estimate. It was bought by New York City dealer Rick Wester for a client. While a partial Curtis set had sold at Swann in 2007 for over $1 million, with premium, this was their first lot to actually hammer for over $1 million.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Vice President and Director of Photographs & Photobooks, said, "We were very pleased to have sold this iconic work by a major 20th century artist. The price reflects the rarity and beauty of this American masterpieceand the interest in photobooks as an art form."

This particular set, with 20 folios on Japan tissue (featuring 722 large-format photogravures), and 20 text volumes (with more than 1,500 small-format photogravures on vellum), was ink numbered 113/500, and is likely the only version containing a treasure trove of 111 large-format photogravures signed by Curtis. The images were, however, reportedly blindstamped by the source.

Individual works by Curtis also attracted attention, with the orotones At the Old Well of Acoma (three times the high estimate) and Cañon de Chelly (more than double the high estimate), both 1904, selling for $28,800 (ninth place on the top ten) and $26,400 (tenth place) respectively, and a rare oversized platinum print of Oasis in the Badlands, 1905, ($30,000–$50,000), making a low reserve at $24,000.

Interest in other early photographs was also strong. In fact, eight of Swann's top ten lots were among the first 23 lots. A fabulous multi-panel panorama image of lower Manhattan from 1876, titled Beal's Photographic View of New York, showing a portion of the Brooklyn Bridge still under construction, brought $96,000.

Two lots of albums containing cyanotypes sold above estimate: a circa 1900 album of Colorado by Rev. H.A. Handel sold for $48,000 (also more than three times the high estimate, good for fourth place), and Charles Lummis's Picturesque New Mexico, 1889–91, sold for an artist record of $36,000 (two-and-a-half times the high estimate and sixth place); while Alexander Gardner and Henry DeWitt Moulton's Rays of Sunlight from South America, album containing 60 photographs, 1865, achieved an auction record of $33,600 (just over high estimate and eighth place).

Lewis W. Hine's haunting image of a child laborer, Spinner, Cotton Mill, Macon, GA, 1909, brought $60,000 (2-1/2 times the high estimate and third place); and other featured images of children were W. Eugene Smith's The Walk to Paradise Garden, oversized silver print, 1946, printed 1960s ($25,000–$35,000), $40,800 (fifth place); Alfred Eisenstaedt's Children at a Puppet Theatre, Paris, 1963, printed 1990, $36,000 (seventh place); and Sally Mann's The New Mothers, 1989 ($25,000–$35,000), $20,400.

André Kertész: Photographs Volume II, 1930–1972, with nine of 10 photographs, printed 1973, and Vera Lutter's Lower Manhattan Skyline with Twin Towers, a unique silver print, 1996, both tied for tenth place at $26,400.

Swann set a record for one of their photographs sales at $2,711,628, only the second time they've topped $2 million (the other being when the other Curtis set sold in 2007). The 37% buy-in rate was a little high, but with their overall success, I don't think anyone at Swann minded.

(Copyright ©2012 by The Photograph Collector.)

My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95. You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 140 East Richardson Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org/wordpressindex/shop/.