Langston Hughes’ ‘First Book of Negroes’
  • Langston Hughes’ ‘Shakespeare in Harlem’
  • Children’s book of Paul Laurence Dunbar poems
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    Auction Finds

    Readers ask about Alice Dunbar Nelson & Langston Hughes’ book

    I always feel lucky to find works written by African American authors from the early part of the 20th century. I’ve come across several of them at auction, most of them children’s books that I’ve discovered or learned about.

    Lois Mailou Jones is one of my favorite artists, and I bought a children’s book illustrated by her. Langston Hughes wrote a series of “First Book of Negroes” books about African Americans and I found one of them. A book of poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar popped up at another auction, and there was W.E. B. DuBois’ Brownies magazine, which I’m still looking for.

    For my readers’ questions today, I’ve selected two about works by African Americans. I get readers questions quite often, and on Fridays, I try to guide them to resources to help them determine the value of their items. I’m not able to appraise their treasures, but I can do some preliminary research to get them started. So, these are market values, not appraisal for insurance purposes that I suggest for items that have been determined to be of great value.

    Today’s questions are about some manuscripts of Alice Dunbar Nelson and a signed copy of Hughes’ “First Book of Negroes.”

    Alice Dunbar Nelson

    Alice Dunbar Nelson, along with her calling cards and the cover of a book compiling some of her diary entries. From University of Delaware Library and Modern American Poetry websites.


    I have original manuscripts of Alice Nelson Dunbar from 1918 to 1930. Would like to sell them.


    Good for you to have such a treasure. Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson was the wife (and then ex-wife) of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, but was a writer in her own right. She wrote essays, short stories and poems, but was more a writer of prose.

    Dunbar Nelson was born in a middle-class family of Creole parents in New Orleans about 10 years after the Civil War. In her diary from the 1920s, she mentioned how tough it was to look white and be black: taunted as a child as half-white, and as an adult, accepted by neither whites nor African Americans.

    She published her first book of poetry in 1895 at the age of 20. After moving to New York, she co-founded her own school. She also began a correspondence with Dunbar, and the two married in 1898. She kept it a secret because teachers were not supposed to be married. They separated in 1902, but apparently never divorced, although she married twice after then.

    Dunbar Nelson later moved to Wilmington, DE, where she continued to teach and write – for a Methodist publication, as co-editor of a black newspaper and as publisher of a literary anthology. She also became an activist for women’s rights, and worked for women’s suffrage and against lynching.

    The subjects of her writings were derived from the issues that were confronting her and other African Americans. Many of her works about racism, rights of African Americans and oppression, according to one source, were not accepted for publication.

    She wrote essays primarily for academic journals, but also became a well-published journalist for her writings in newspapers and magazines. Many of her stories, poems, plays and novels have never been published.

    Dunbar Nelson also wrote a diary that detailed her life and that of her African American counterparts. Her diary from 1921 and 1926 to 1931 was published in 1984. Dunbar-Nelson died in 1935 at the age of 60 in Philadelphia and was buried in Wilmington.

    Some of her diaries, manuscripts and others papers are housed at the University of Delaware Library.

    For this reader, I would suggest finding a reputable auction house like Swann Auction Galleries to sell your Dunbar Nelson manuscripts. Another suggestion is to try the University of Delaware, the African American Museum at the Smithsonian and other such collections.

    You may also want to consider donating them to one of these institutions, along with the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, which has some of her works.

    Langston Hughes' "First Book of Negroes"


    I have an authentic “First Book of Negroes” book inscribed by Langston Hughes on 3/18/61. It is in excellent condition. Is there any library or journalist out there interested in Langston Hughes?


    You shouldn’t have a problem handing off your book to a library or other collection, but you didn’t mention if you wanted to donate it or sell it.

    Hughes wrote several books in the “First” series, which were published soon after World War II. He had been solicited by the owners of the publishing company, which one source said sought out writers like him who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

    Hughes “First Book of Negroes” was published in 1952. Others by him include “The First Book of Rhythms (1954),” “The First Book of Jazz (1955),” “The First Book of the West Indies (1956)” and “The First Book of Africa (1960).”

    If you’d like to donate the book, you could try the Schomberg Center, the Smithsonian African American museum or another major collection. Again, Swann or another major auction house are alternatives for selling it. You can also try selling it through a local reputable auction house in your area. You can find one via

    As for price, I found a signed first-edition copy from 1952 selling for $688. Unsigned copies were going for $75 and $80.


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