CINCINNATI – Early photography, manuscripts and archives from the Civil War and the Wild West exceeded expectations in Cowan’s Summer American History Premier Auction on June 22. Absentee and Internet bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
The auction featured several impressive and unique collections of early photography headlined by several lots from the remainder of the Patsy Garlow Collection of William F. Cody Family Photographs. Garlow was a direct descendant of Cody and this collection contains the last known photographs of the Wild West showman that remained in the possession of the family. Additional offerings from the collection will be available in future auctions.
Documenting the birth of the Wild West Show, an albumen photograph of Western legends “Wild Bill” Hickok, “Texas Jack” Omohundro, and “Buffalo Bill” Cody (above) from Cody’s personal collection fetched the highest price of the day, selling for $15,600 (including the buyer’s premium).
“If any one of these legends of the West are in a photograph, collectors are going to be interested. Put all three in one picture and you get a bidding war,” said Matt Chapman, Cowan’s early photography specialist. “Throw in the unique provenance of the item and it’s really no surprise that it took off.”
In December 1872, Cody and Omohundro appeared together in the stage show, Scouts of The Prairie, which featured the well-known frontier scouts as live actors. This photograph was taken in late 1873, when Wild Bill Hickok joined them as the third star in the renamed production Scouts of the Plains during the show’s second season. Although a commercial success, Hickok’s erratic stage behavior (he had a penchant for drinking and firing live ammunition during performances) and general dislike of acting resulted in his leaving the tour after a few months. Hickok was murdered while playing poke less than three years later, and Omohundro parted ways with Cody in 1877 to form an acting troupe with his wife, an Italian ballerina, before his death in 1880. Cody, however, would form Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1883-1884 and go on to become one of the most famous showmen in the world for the next 30 years.
As with all American History auctions at Cowan’s, items relating to Abraham Lincoln were in high demand. An archive from the personal collection of famed theater actor William J. Ferguson (1845-1930), witness to Lincoln’s assassination and cast member of the fateful production of Our American Cousin, sold for $14,400. This rare and unique combination of assassination memorabilia included a large piece of presidential box wallpaper as well as Ferguson’s hand-drawn diagrams of Ford’s Theater and the path of John Wilkes Booth’s escape.
From the Mr. & Mrs. Jack L. Smith Collection of Lincolniana, one of the premier collections of its kind, the first galley proof of Frederick Hill Meserve’s (1865 – 1962) exceptionally important The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln sold for $11,400. The book was the first serious attempt to catalog the photographs of Lincoln and this galley proof featured numerous edits from Meserve himself marked in pencil in the margins, along with CDV-sized copy prints of each of the 100 poses known to Meserve at the time.
The auction featured the first offerings from two major early photography collections that, together, cover just about every style and subject matter for photography in the late-19th and early 20th century.
The culmination of nearly four decades of selective collecting, the Charles A. and Frances Swedlund Collection of early photography is an extensive collection of upward of 1,000 daguerreotypes, as well as ambrotypes, tintypes and albumen photographs.
“We’ve handled countless photography collections and this is probably the most complete surveys of 19th-century photography I’ve ever seen,” said Chapman. “Not only is there a wide variety in subject matter, this collection contains almost all techniques and styles from the era. It’s no wonder we saw avid bidding on so many of their lots.”
A CDV of African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth from the collection saw the most bidding in the photography category of the day, blowing past its estimate of $500-$700 on its way to selling for $5,700. Other highlights included a fantastic half plate ambrotype of a large-scale California mining operation that sold for $3,600; a sixth plate tintype of two African-American soldiers for $2,760; and three postmortem daguerreotypes of the same young boy for $1,680.
Part I of the Steve Roden Collection: Music in Vernacular Photographs featured an exceptional selection of music-themed photography from the man who literally wrote the book on the subject. The collection includes several hundred cased images, CDVs, cabinet card and real photo postcards dating from the mid-19th to mid-20th century featuring musicians and bands posed with their instruments, unique musical creations and early listening and recording devices.
A pair of rare tintypes of men testing Thomas Edison’s phonograph using primitive headphones was the top lot of the collection selling for $4,800. A similar lot of photos showing a different set of people testing the device sold for $2,400.
Other highlights from the auction included two exquisite sixth plate ambrotypes of surgeon William T. Brewer of the 43rd North Carolina Infantry, who was captured at Gettysburg, which sold for $8,400; a Civil War-era CDV album of prominent American personalities including Union and Confederate generals and politicians for $8,400; a signed photograph of Albert Einstein in his favorite leather jacket for $7,800; a rare antislavery broadside titled A Crusade Against Slavery for $7,200; an exceptional Buffalo Bill composite poster for $6,000; and a Confederate wooden canteen identified to a private in the 28th Alabama Infantry for $5,400.
The auction also featured several historically significant manuscripts and archives. Highlights from the category included the Confederate Gen. Pierce Manning Butler Young & Family manuscript collection, which sold for $11,400; a rare signed note by Revolutionary War Gen. Richard Montgomery dated Aug. 18, 1775, $11,070; legendary Western sheriff and U.S. Marshal Seth Bullock correspondence and related documents, $9,600; letters and a Civil War diary titled A Memorandum of Butler’s Expedition on the Mississippi River from a clerk in the 30th Massachusetts Infantry, $8,400; a Civil War diary of Robert I. Battle, Confederate spy and partisan ranger,$7,200; and the archive of Union Gen. Joseph K.F. Mansfield for $7,200.