Auction of the Week: Guernsey's African American Historic & Cultural Treasures



2018-07-11 14:35:31

Our featured auction this week is the African American Historic & Cultural Treasures sale at Guernsey's in New York on July 25-26. The auction is packed with remarkable and important artifacts from American 20th century history – and here are a few of our favourites...

Signed Sports Illustrated Dream Team issue

Estimate: $400 - $600

This signed copy of Sports Illustrated magazine features the autographs of five of the biggest names in basketball history: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley.

The issue dates from February 1991, and features a cover story about the Dream Team – the team of NBA superstars who would cruise to basketball gold in the upcoming 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

On their way to victory they swept past their opponents, winning all eight games in the tournament by an average of 44 points, with Barkley leading the team in scoring at 18 points per game.

In 2017 the entire team was inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame, and is regarded as the greatest national basketball team in history.

Josephine Baker's mink coat

Estimate: $3,000 - $4,000

Josephine Baker was the world's first true black superstar, who found fame as a dancer at the Folies Bergère in Paris, having emigrated to France from the U.S in 1925.

Known as the 'Black Pearl' or the 'Bronze Venus', Baker starred in several European movies before reinventing herself as singer and finding fame arund the world.

In addition to her career as a performer, Baker served as a covert member of the French resistance during WWII.

Having been recruited by French military intelligence, she used her position as an internationally-known entertainer to travel around the world, gathering valuable information at various embassy parties from high-ranking officials and bureaucrats.

She was also an active member of the Civil Rights Movement, working closely with the NAACP, and spoke alongside Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963.

Following King's death, she was approached to take his place as leader of the Movement, but she declined citing safety concerns for her family.

This dark red mink coat was reportedly owned by Baker, and originates from the collection of Larry Richards, an internationally renowned expert in African American cultural history.

Stormy Weather movie poster

Estimate: $3,000 - $4,000

Stormy Weather is a 1943 musical starring some of the 20th century's greatest black artists including Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and the Nicholas Brothers.

At a time where black performers rarely played lead roles in Hollywood movies, the film offered a showcase for their talents, and helped break racial stereotypes which had previously existed in studio pictures.

The film was a fictionalised autobiography of Robinson, who played a dancer who returns to the U.S after WWI to pursue a career as a performer.

The film also includes one of the greatest dance sequences ever committed to film, as the Nicholas Brothers dance to 'Jumpin' Jive', performed by Cab Calloway and his orchestra.

This rare original one-sheet poster was produced for the film's re-release by 20th Century Fox in 1950 – a year after Robinson sadly died penniless at the age of 71.

James Brown's tuxedo

Estimate: $7,000 - $9,000

This black tuxedo once belonged to the hardest working man in showbusiness, the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown.

According to the label, it was custom-made for Brown in Toronto in October 1969, the same month in which he recorded tracks for his seminal double album 'Sex Machine'.

The album featured 10 songs recorded live Brown's hometown of Augusta, Georgia, backed by the original line-up of The J.Bs, and is regarded as one of the most important soul records of all time.

Throughout his career Brown was well-known for his immaculate style, and he regularly fined his band members for untidiness.

However, following the release of Sex Machine in 1970 Brown switched from smart suits and tuxedos to a series of colourful flared jumpsuits, marking the start of a new chapter in his career – and the invention of 'funk' as we know it.

Jackson Five first acetate single

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000

This 45rpm record is one of the very first acetate test pressings of The Jackson Five's debut single 'Big Boy' / 'Some Girls Want Me for Their Lover'.

The record was released in January 1968 on Steeltown Records, the group's first record label based in their home town of Gary, Indiana. Both tracks feature the earliest lead vocals of Michael Jackson, who was just nine when the songs were recorded.

The single was a hit in the Midwest, and sold around 10,000 copies through a distribution deal with Atlantic, but it was not a critical or commercial success.

It did, however, help the group win an audition for the legendary Motown Records, who they signed with in July 1968 – and the rest is music history.

Rosa Parks' handwritten notes on 1st meeting with Martin Luther King Jr.

Estimate: $100,000 - $300,000

This single page of handwritten notes recalls the first meeting between Civil Rights activists Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

The meeting took place in August 1955 at an NAACP meeting in Montgomery Alabama, shortly after King became the pastor of the nearby Dexter Ave Baptist Church at the age of just 26.

At the time Parks was serving as secretary of the NAACP, and just four months later she would refuse to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus in Alabama – a moment of defiance that became one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement, which King would rise to lead.

Her notes on the meeting read, in part:

"Mr. Nesbitt introduced this very young man as the pastor of the Dexter Ave Bapt. Church. I was amazed + astonished at the youthful appearance and the profound and eloquent speech delivered by Rev. M.L.K. Jr. I knew I would never forget him. I thought we were very fortunate that he came to Montgomery, Ala."

Handwritten by Parks in the late 1950s, this single page is a first-hand account of a meeting between two of the most significant figures in American history.

Malcolm X autobiography manuscript with notes by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Estimate: $100,000 - $300,000

This manuscript is the original working copy of Civil Rights activist Malcolm X's autobiography, written in collaboration with Alex Haley, the award-winning journalist and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Roots.

The autobiography was written between 1963 and 1965, in a series of interviews conducted between the pair before Malcolm X was assassinated.

This manuscript features 241 typed pages, comprising chapters one through five, eight and fifteen, and includes extensive handwritten notes, edits, and additions by both Malcolm X and Alex Haley.

These notes highlight attempts by editors to soften Malcolm X's original words and tone down his explosive rhetoric, offering an illuminating look into the writing process and documenting the struggle for control of the historically important work.

The Rosa Parks Family Home

Estimate: $1 million - $3 million

This simple wooden house is the former Detroit home of Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks.

Following her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1955, an act of defiance which sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, Rosa Parks faced a backlash including constant death threats.

Unable to find employment due to her activism, she was forced to move to Detroit in 1957 in search of work, along with her husband Raymond and her mother.

They initially stayed with her brother, her sister-in-law and their 13 children, crammed into this three-bedroom house on South Deacon Street, seeking sanctuary from persecution and segregation in the south. 

Like thousands of other homes in Detroit, the building was eventually abandoned and left to decay for years as the city's economy collapsed.

However, it was saved from demolition in 2010 by Parks’ niece Rhea McCauley, who paid $500 for the structure, and began a project with artist Ryan Mendoza to dismantle it and rebuild it in Berlin.

Having been displayed on both sides of the Atlantic as a historic art installation, the house will now be offered for sale, with the intention of it finding a permanent home on display for future generations.

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