A trio of important circa 1850 daguerreotypes drew tremendous interest and heated bidding in Heritage
’s $1.2 million Nov. 17 Grand Format Americana & Political Memorabilia Auction, with all three realizing well above their pre-auction estimates.
A most unusual half plate image of a travelling photographer’s studio brought more almost 10 times its pre-auction estimate to finish the day at $95,600, while the auction catalog’s cover piece, a previously unknown half plate portrait of Mexican War hero and 12th U.S. President Zachary Taylor, consigned by a descendant of Taylor’s – with a complete chain of ownership – sold for $47,800, more than six times its pre-auction estimate of $8,000+. Rounding out this important triumvirate of early photos was a rare 1852 quarter plate daguerreotype of an identified San Francisco water vendor. Estimated at $8000+, the image drew great interest from both photography and California history buffs, and topped out at $31, 870.
“It’s safe to say that the auction market for quality material is stronger than ever,” said Tom Slater, Director of Americana Auctions at Heritage. “When special items like these Daguerreotypes show up at auction, the atmosphere is electric.”
Serendipity brought together three important artifacts of the legendary General George Armstrong Custer, who was slain with more than 200 of his men at the Battle of Little Big Horn in June, 1876. His inscribed and signed personal Bible, used in his last days at Fort Abraham Lincoln, drew spirited bidding and sold for $32, 265, while a pair of his cavalry spurs, with a Custer family letter of authentication brought $19, 120. A superb pair of hand-painted porcelain vases depicting Custer and wife Libbie, by New Orleans portrait artist R.T. Lux and commissioned by Custer himself, didn’t meet its reserve price when they came onto the block, but were quickly sold in a private treaty after the auction.
“Custer remains one of the most famous and romantic figures in American history,” said Slater. “Despite the controversies over his military judgment, important relics are always in demand. These three items were dispersed some 20 years ago when the Custer family sold a number of family treasures at auction. It was a thrill to have the opportunity to give collectors another chance at these unique pieces.”
Other highlights of the auction included a classic John F. Kennedy owned and used rocking chair, the only one with Kennedy family authentication (a letter from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy), which more than doubled its $30,000+ estimate to bring $65,725. The rocker was part of a special section of JFK items in honor of the 50th anniversary of his 1960 election to the presidency, which included a gold watch presented to JFK in 1960 and worn by him during the campaign that brought $23,900 and a delightful original photo of Kennedy taken at the White House by Senator and 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, subsequently signed and inscribed to him by the President with what has become a legendary quip:
“To Barry Goldwater – whom I urge to follow the career for which he has shown so much talent – photography! From his friend John Kennedy.”
“Goldwater and Kennedy were at opposite ends of the political spectrum,” Slater said, “but enjoyed the easy familiarity one would expect of former colleagues in the U.S. Senate. Before the tragic events in Dallas, it was widely expected that the two men would square off in the 1964 presidential election.”
As always, the Heritage Americana auction featured an impressive array of political campaign and presidential memorabilia, which accounted for nearly half of the sales total. The highest price realized was achieved by an 1860 Lincoln and Hamlin campaign flag, which well-exceeded its top estimate when it sold for $20,315.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the auction was the $21, 510 price paid for a sealskin parka belonging to renowned polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, which more than quintupled pre-auction estimates.