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American Art Association records, circa 1853-1929, bulk 1885-1922

American Art Association records, circa 1853-1929, bulk 1885-1922

American Art Association

Collection Information

Size: 27.8 linear feet

Biographical/Historical Note

The American Art Association was an art gallery and auction house based in New York City, New York, formed in 1883 by James F. Sutton, R. Austin Robertson, and Thomas E. Kirby. It was the first auction house in the United States.


A portion of the American Art Association records were donated in 1968 by Thomas Ellis Kirby's daughter, Mrs. Thomas B. Waller. The remaining records were donated by the American Antiquarian Society in 1978 and 1993.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

Scope and Contents

The American Art Association records measure 27.8 linear feet and date from circa 1853-1929, with the bulk of the material dating from circa 1885-1922. The records include auction and sales files, general financial and legal files, inventory and stock records, client files, printed materials, photographic materials, artwork, and the scattered personal papers of founder Thomas Ellis Kirby.

Auction files contain a wide variety of materials regarding auction schedules, auctions, gallery sales, and estate sales. The files primarily contain correspondence, sales statements and ledgers, estate inventories and appraisals, and photographs. Of interest is a handwritten letter from Andrew Carnegie concerning the Second Prize Fund Exhibition.

Records of sales are documented in named files, sales ledgers, client account books, and Blakeslee Gallery sales ledgers. Files are found for specific art collections and estates. Sales ledgers list sales transactions of the Association by collection, department, genre, or named auction and provide the most detailed sales information, often noting title or subject, size, owner, lot number, date, purchaser, and price, and sometimes an index of artists. Other ledgers document consignment and exhibition sales, as well as sales conducted by other galleries or auction houses, both in the United States and in Europe. Exhibition sales documented include those of Alfred Parsons and Frank Millet in 1903, the American Watercolor Society in 1902, and the American Painters and Illustrators in 1905, and others. Client account books provide itemized costs accrued by individuals or estates over the course of a sale or purchase. Many of the ledgers contain name indexes.

General financial and legal files primarily consist of cash and expense ledgers documenting daily, monthly, and yearly costs and expenses related to the production of auction and sales catalogs, costs associated with leasing spaces and equipment, shipping and crating, employee sales commissions, art department expenses, book department expenses, and other costs. Legal files contain scattered forms and contractual documents, as well as correspondence and documents related to two lawsuits.

Inventory and stock records document the Association's inventory through a series of stock books and inventory cards that include sales and provenance information.

Client files consist of cards divided into clients interested in art and clients interested in books. They also include some information on specific client sales and purchases. Also found are numerous client address books. Printed materials include auction catalogs, clippings, and newspapers.

Photographs depict works of art and materials sold and collected. Of interest is a collection of cabinet photographs of French artists collected when the American Art Association was actively involved in the auction sales of thousands of paintings by French artists. Also found are four photo albums depicting auction items for a 1907 auction, prepared for the American Art Association by William H. Crocker. Several unsigned prints, sketches, and drawings are found in the artwork series.

Thomas Ellis Kirby's scattered personal papers include an address book, scattered family and biographical materials, correspondence with clients and associates, writings and speeches, legal material, auction records, and photographs.

Portions of this collection are available on 35 mm legacy microfilm reels 422-425 and reels 4478-4484 at the Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the papers as described in this finding aid does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm due to reprocessing.

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

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