Cowan’s African Americana Sale Sees Incredible Engagement from Institutional Buyers and Exceeds Estimate

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  • February 24, 2021

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Sixth plate daguerreotype of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first and seventh president of Liberia. N.p., ca 1840s. Price Realized: $13,750

The February 18th African Americana auction at Cowan’s, a Hindman company, realized over $250,000 with institutional and international bidders showing strong interest in a range of historically significant lots. A number of influential figures including Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marcus Garvey, Madam C.J. Walker, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and Angela Davis were represented in the first dedicated various owner auction for the category. The sale included books, manuscript archives, early photography, posters, and more.

Leading the auction and receiving outstanding interest was the archive of Lieutenant Colonel George Henry Hoyt (lot 46) which ultimately realized $43,750, more than ten times its presale estimate. Hoyt is known for serving as one of John Brown's attorneys when the martyred abolitionist stood trial for the raid at Harper's Ferry, Va. The archive features a journal with Hoyt's hand-recorded testimonies from Brown's relatives, former neighbors and old acquaintances, along with a leather-backed scrapbook containing more than 50 newspaper clippings reporting on Hoyt and the trial. It also includes two letters from John Brown, Jr. (one affirming that Hoyt received no compensation for his role as Brown's advocate); a fascinating war-date letter written by Hoyt to his wife from Humbolt, Tenn. where he served with Company K of the 7th Kansas Cavalry Regiment (Jennison's Jayhawkers); and additional letters from various recipients regarding Hoyt's work on the Brown case.

Detail from an archive of George H. Hoyt's work as an attorney for John Brown. Price Realized: $43,750

Another top performer was a sixth plate daguerreotype of Joseph Jenkins Roberts (lot 82), the first and seventh president of Liberia, which beat its presale estimate and realized $13,750. A company sales badge for the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company (lot 120) was another standout item, and sold for over triple its presale estimate, realizing $9,375. Madam C.J. Walker was the first female self-made millionaire in the United States.

Other top lots included a portrait of an elderly African American gentleman painted by Maria Howard Weeden (lot 241), which sold for $8,960, far above its presale estimate, and a Black Panther carved rally stick (lot 230), which realized $8,960.

Bidding for the February 18th auction was available via absentee bid, over the phone, and live online using one of four online bidding platforms. Cowan’s is now accepting consignments for future auctions including the June 2021 American Historical Ephemera & Photography auction. For more information, visit

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