The top lot in Swann Galleries’ auction of Fine Photographs & Photobooks on October 4 was also the top lot ever sold at Swann. 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—more than any other single lot sold at the auction house. 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 masterpiece and the interest in photobooks as an artform.” This particular set, with 20 folios on Japan tissue (featuring 722 large-format photogravures), and 20 text volumes with more than 1500 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.
Individual works by Curtis attracted attention, with the orotones At the Old Well of Acoma and Cañon de Chelly, both 1904, selling for $28,800 and $26,400 respectively, and a platinum print of Oasis in the Badlands, 1905, $24,000. Interest in other early photographs was also strong. A 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 and Charles Lummis’s Picturesque New Mexico, 1889-91, sold for an artist record of $36,000; 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.
Lewis W. Hine’s image of a child laborer, Spinner, Cotton Mill, Macon, Georgia, silver print, 1909, brought $60,000; and other featured images of children were W. Eugene Smith’s The Walk to Paradise Garden, oversized silver print, 1946, printed 1960s, $40,800; Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Children at a Puppet Theatre, Paris, silver print, 1963, printed 1990, $36,000; and Sally Mann’s The New Mothers, silver print, 1989, $20,400. Portraits of well-known figures included a vintage print of Richard Avedon’s Bob Dylan, N.Y.C., silver contact print, 1963-65, that was gifted by Avedon to his friend Bob Cato, art director at Columbia Records who created the cover for Dylan’s Greatest Hits, $24,000; and a unique Polaroid Polacolor Type 108 print by Andy Warhol of Edward M. Kennedy, which was sold to raise funds for The Early Use Fund, a non-profit organization assisting leading cancer researchers and prestigious medical facilities in obtaining access to emerging cancer technologies—some of which could have made a difference in saving the life of Ted Kennedy. It sold for $9,000.
One of Margaret Bourke-White’s images of the Soviet Union, Soviet Worker, silver print, 1931, brought $15,600; while her DC-4 Flying Over New York City, silver print, 1939, printed 2000, $19,200. Diverse highlights from the rest of the sale were a group of 40 risqué photographs depicting the male physique by Fred Kovert, late 1940s, $15,600; André Kertész: Photographs Volume II, 1930-1972, with nine of 10 photographs, printed 1973, $26,400; Robert Adams’s Colorado Springs, Colorado, silver print, 1969, $20,400; and Vera Lutter’s Lower Manhattan Skyline with Twin Towers, unique silver print, 1996, $26,400.
*All prices include buyer’s premium.