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‘Oration Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester,’ a limited edition copy of the text of the speech later known as ‘What to the Slave is Your Fourth of July?’, given by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852 and printed by Lee Mann & Co. It hammered for $69,000 and sold for $86,250 with buyer’s premium at Schultz Auctioneers.

1852 copy of immortal Frederick Douglass speech commands $86K at Schultz

CLARENCE, N.Y. A contemporary printing of one of the most famous speeches given by abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) sold for well above its estimate at Schultz Auctioneers on November 25, during the second day of a three-day sale. The copy of the 10,000-word speech given at Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York in 1852 was issued shortly afterwards by local printer Lee Mann & Co. Estimated at $1,000-$3,500, it hammered for $69,000 and sold for $86,250 with buyer’s premium.

Douglass had been invited to address the citizens of his hometown on July 5, 1852 by a local women’s abolitionist group, the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society. Issued the day after the nation celebrated the 76th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he used the occasion to focus on the continuing enslavement of millions.

“What to the Slave is Your Fourth of July?” he asked. “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.” 

His polemic continued. “I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”

After giving the speech, some 700 copies of this pamphlet, titled Oration Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, were sold to members of the audience, while an advertisement run later in the month in the North Star, the Rochester, New York-based anti-slavery newspaper Douglass published, read: “The 4th of July Address, delivered in Corinthian Hall, by Frederick Douglass, is published on good paper, and makes a neat pamphlet of forty pages. The ‘Address’ may be had at this office, price ten cents, a single copy, or six dollars per hundred.” The speech has since taken its name from Douglass’s pointed question, “What to the Slave is Your Fourth of July?”

The pamphlet survives in a number of institutional collections, but is rare at auction. A stamp to one of the pages of the Schultz copy suggested it was formerly part of the collection of a local historical society, the Clarence Historical Museum in Clarence, New York, about 56 miles west of Rochester. It was intact, but some of the pages were soiled. 

Another object that features in many of the nation’s museum collections is the 10in-high Heathen Chinee pitcher made by the Union Porcelain Works in Greenpoint, Long Island. Designed by the German-born modeler Karl L.H. Miller, its name comes from a hugely popular Bret Harte (1836-1902) poem of 1870, Plain Language from Truthful James (or The Heathen Chinee), chronicling life in the mining camps on the West Coast. 

To one side are the characters of King Gambrinus, patron saint of beer, and Brother Jonathan, the symbolic forerunner of Uncle Sam, taken from a popular story by Charles Deulin published in 1868. To the other are the frontiersman Bill Nye and the Chinese immigrant Ah Sin from The Heathen Chinee. Harte had written his narrative poem to challenge the prejudice and hypocrisy aimed at Chinese laborers in California. Instead, to his dismay, it had simply fueled xenophobia. 

Pitchers of this type were exhibited at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. This example, with a blue ground and some restoration to the spout, was estimated at $500-$1,000, but it hammered for $4,250 and sold for $5,312 with buyer’s premium.

Aided by the skills of highly trained émigré craftsmen from France and Germany, New York City emerged as the center for the production of luxury furniture, interior woodwork, and decoration in the 1800s. Dating from circa 1875 and the subject of strong bidding competition was a remarkable center table in the Renaissance Revival taste. Likely made by one of the top-drawer Union Square firms that prospered in the boom years of the late 19th century – Schastey, Herter Brothers or Pottier & Stymus – it featured monopedia supports capped by female masks and a blaze of floral marquetry to the frieze and top. Just the thing for a wealthy Gilded Age financier or railroad magnate, it hammered for $34,000 and sold for $42,500 with buyer’s premium against an estimate of $2,000-$3,000.