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Gallery's first ever "Pride Sale" to auction off iconic LGBTQ items including Harvey Milk letter

Later this week, Swann Galleries, one of New York City's oldest auction houses, will launch its first ever "Pride Sale" in conjunction with World Pride Month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Up for grabs are hundreds of iconic LGBTQ items, a collection which Swann Galleries president Nicholas Lowry hopes "resonates with the public as much as it did with us." 

According to the auction gallery's website, the sale will feature a variety of documents, photographs and posters from the past two centuries, "chronicling the lives of luminaries and the history of movements, parades and protest." Notable items include letters from former San Francisco supervisor and gay rights icon Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.

When then-San Francisco Mayor George Moscone took a trip to Europe in March 1978, Milk became acting mayor in his absence for a day. He penned and signed a memo on "Office of the Mayor" letterhead to his friends, activist Don Amador and his husband Tony. The note read: "Thought you should have a memo from the 1st up front gay mayor of any city — it's for real!!!" 

The estimated auction price of the letter is between $4,000 and $6,000, according to Swann Galleries

San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk penned a 1978 memo to his friends as acting mayor of the city. The piece is up for auction at Swann Galleries later this month. Associated Press/Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

"Material of his almost never comes up for auction," Lowry told CBS News. "It's an incredible association piece in America. When people handle it, they get goosebumps." 

Another noteworthy piece is a copy of poet Walt Whitman's "Memoranda During the War" with a handwritten inscription for his lover, Peter Doyle. The price for this edition, made in 1875-76, is estimated to be $50,000 to $70,000. 

"He inscribed it to his partner," Lowry said. "That the book that he signed to his lover is wild. So unheard of [at the time]. So important."  

Walt Whitman's "Memoranda During the War" remembrance copy inscribed to Peter Doyle.  Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Lowry, who credited a client for coming up with the idea for the Pride Sale, said just over 260 pieces are up for bid. He said Swann was offered six times that many pieces from contributors. The exhibition opens on June 15 and the auction will be held on June 20. 

"The community is going to be able to visualize what they have created in a brand new way," he said. "We're presenting it in a way that it hasn't been in the LGBT community." 

Lowry said everyone at Swann contributed and they're "proud" of the result. He hopes to make it an annual event.

"We actually got an email, 'You made an old man cry.' People are really rising from the material. What I hope they leave with, is having felt good as we did." 

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