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John Hancock autographed letter brings $78K at Swann

The results of Swann Auction Galleries’ March 13, 2008, autograph auction exceeded pre-sale estimates by nearly $200,000, though not all lots were sold. All prices listed include buyer’s premium. The sale featured notable Americana items, rare photographs, and collection of postcards, many illustrated, from diverse 20th-century luminaries, sending felicitations to the Eiffel Tower upon her centennial in 1989.

The top lot was a John Hancock autographed letter, which was signed with initials to George Washington upon Washington’s retirement, dated October 15, 1783. This personal letter began, “My feelings as a private friend, and the very great personal regard for your Excellency with which I have been penetrated ever since I had the honor of an acquaintance with you, would by no means allow one to see you retiring from your important employments without paying you my particular attentions.” The letter sold for $78,000, far exceeding the presale estimate of $12,000-$18,000.

The second-highest lot was a letter, written in Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter Virginia’s hand, to poet Lydia H. Sigourney and addressed and signed by Jefferson, dated July 18, 1824, acknowledging the wrongs committed against other races. Jefferson wrote to the poet agreeing with her views regarding the advocacy of “Indian rights,” and expressing the wish that these wrongs were “the only blot in our moral history, and that no other race had higher charges to bring against us.” It slightly exceeded its presale estimate of $30,000-$40,000, settling at $48,000.

A sheet of ink and wash drawings on Jewish subjects, signed, with holograph captions, by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, dated November 12, 1822, also ranked high on the top lots list. At approximately 20×14 inches, the sheet has four drawings, each captioned, and on the reverse the sheet contains 20 drawings of ancient musical instruments, each captioned in manuscript. Though its presale estimate was $6,000-$9,000, the lot brought $28,800.

In the entertainment arena, and of a much more recent vintage, a signed bust portrait photograph, approximately 8″x10”, of James Dean in jacket and T-shirt, circa 1955, brought $6,240, bringing double its presale estimate of $2,000-$3,000.

The postcard collection included cards from notables in all walks of public life: coutouriers, politicians, photographers, graphic artists, cartoonists, sports figures, and others. The card from Sir Edmund Hillary included a drawing in ink of a man atop a mountain, followed by a Sherpa, signed, “E.P. Hillary.” Its presale estimate was $200-$300, but the lot realized $1,020, perhaps due to Hillary’s recent passing.

For more information on this auction, or Swann’s other upcoming or past auctions, visit