Pride and Place
A new sale by Swann Galleries in New York will feature works celebrating LGBTQ creatives. By Erin McPherson Erin McPherson is a writer and editor based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is an amateur collector of hardbound Dickens.
June 29 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, and Swann Galleries is commemorating the occasion on June 20 with its first Pride Sale—an auction which aims to celebrate LGBTQ+ artists and authors over time.
“We believe it’s the first time a sale like this has been organized,” said Nicholas D. Lowry, president and principal auctioneer for Swann. “We’re curating these pieces in an entirely new way and codifying an area of collecting for the market.”
Among the art, letters, literature, photographs, and cultural items that will be available at the sale are two first edition works by American author James Baldwin. Go Tell It On the Mountain has an estimated value of $800-$1,200 and was Baldwin’s debut—a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1953, which tells the story of a depression-era Harlem teenager.
“That book is not overtly gay,” Lowry said. “People say there are gay passages or indications that the protagonist is gay, but it is not a gay novel. On the other hand, Baldwin’s third book, Giovanni’s Room, is overtly gay and is very important to the oeuvre.”
Written in 1956 and estimated at $1,800-$2,500 with hardcover and dust jacket, Giovanni’s Room was once listed by The Advocate as the second most-influential novel in LGBTQ+ literature.
Other works that will be available at the sale include a copy of Walt Whitman’s Memoranda During the War (1875, estimated at $50,000-$75,000), inscribed to Peter Doyle “with the author’s love,” letters from Harvey Milk, and the diary—an address and scheduling book with notes—of Candy Darling, a trans icon and favorite of Andy Warhol.
“This is not an auction where we’re taking artists and authors and outing them,” Lowry said. “These are openly and proudly gay creatives whose works we are celebrating. In the case of Whitman, scholars widely accept that he was gay, and Peter Doyle is generally considered to have been his lover."
Another rare find collectors will be excited to see at the Pride Sale is an extra-limited first edition of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest (1894).
“There were only 1,112 first editions total,” Lowry said. “Twelve of those were printed on Japanese Vellum, and only six of those are known—this is one of the six.”
Estimated to sell at $40,000-$60,000, the volume is also signed by the author.
This year, a portion of the proceeds from the sale will go to the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. In the future, the auction house hopes to develop a new department specifically aimed at curating LGBTQ+ creative works and to continuing the Pride Sale as a yearly event.
“This is all very smart, exciting stuff,” Lowry said. “We expect the event will be attended by people who don’t even know they’re collectors yet.”