More than 1,300 people from around the world spent the weekend of President Abraham Lincolns 213th birthday vying for some of the most significant and compelling pieces of Lincolnalia to come to auction in decades. And by the time Heritage Auctions
two-day near-sellout Lincoln and His Times event concluded Sunday afternoon, it realized $4,264,724, becoming Heritages most successful Americana event in the auction houses 46-year history.
As the auction unfolded, we could tell this was going to be a special event, says Curtis Lindner, Heritage Auctions Director of Americana. We always knew we had exceptional material, and the collecting community agreed.
The Lincoln and His Times Americana & Political Signature® Auction spanned the course of Lincolns life and career, from his days of practicing law in Springfield, Ill., through his wartime presidency. The events top lot a custom pocket knife, in its original presentation box, gifted to Lincoln for attending the Great Central Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia on June 16, 1864 was gifted to Lincoln during his final appearance at an event during which money was raised to aid wounded Union soldiers.
The knife, which sold for $519,000, spoke to the heart of the auction: It offered collectors the opportunity to hold something Lincoln once had in his hands, and presented them with what Lindner calls the ability to possess something seen only in photographs or read about in the numerous rich histories of Abraham Lincoln.
The offering is a remarkable keepsake on its own, from its engraving to its oak presentation box made from the same wood and iron that supported the Liberty Bell. But it was accompanied by something equally remarkable: a thank-you note from the Executive Mansion, which, like many of the documents in this event, was later published in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. It was signed, Your Ob't serv't, A. Lincoln.
That brief missive was among the numerous letters offered in the auction penned and signed by Lincoln, including the oft-collected and oft-quoted Dec. 22, 1862, letter the president wrote to the Army of the Potomac following its demoralizing defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg nine days earlier. It sold for $325,000.
Lincoln was devastated by the Union's defeat at Fredericksburg, yet he summoned strength enough to issue a public letter of commendation to the troops, in the hopes of mitigating its impact and boosting morale. That letter, later turned into a broadside for mass distribution, had not appeared at auction for decades and was a centerpiece of this extraordinary event, as it spends precious few sentences speaking volumes about the man who wrote and signed the document.
Another Lincoln landmark offering was available in this auction: an original draft manuscript petition of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States. This draft signed by Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Hannibal Hamlin, Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate; and 107 members of the 38th Congress is among the most significant documents Heritage Auctions has ever had the honor of offering.
One of the few surviving original duplicates of the joint resolution outlawing slavery sold Saturday for $262,500. Until last weekend, it had not been publicly available for more than a decade.
Lincolns personal copy of his portrait bust by Chicago artist Leonard Volk realized $399,000, befitting its significance and provenance. It was made before Lincolns nomination as the Republican presidential candidate and presented to the Lincolns by Volk in May 1860. Upon their departure for Washington, D.C., the following year, the Lincolns gifted the portrait bust to Rev. Noyes Miner, a Baptist minister who lived across the street from the Lincolns in Springfield. Until this auction the bust had remained in the familys possession; this was the first time it had appeared at auction.
There were several significant items, too, tied to the presidents death, among them the brass key to the private box of Fords Theatre, which Lincoln and his wife Mary occupied the night of his assassination. The key, which sold for $495,000, most recently belonged to Dr. John Lattimer, the esteemed Columbia University urologist who was also a renowned collector of relics related to, among other subjects, Lincolns death.
Of course, this auction was filled with far happier moments and memories, as well, including an oversized Lincoln and Hamlin campaign flag that came directly from the family of its original owner, Samuel Park, who carried it during an 1860 Ohio torchlight parade supporting Lincoln and running mate Hannibal Hamlin. It brought $125,000.
This auction also counted among its offerings numerous rare and coveted items signed by Lincoln, including a carte de visite taken by Mathew B. Brady in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 8, 1864, signed by the president. That piece fetched $81,250.
The continued interest in Lincolns handwritten letters and personally owned items, including the presentation knife, continues to show the influence and respect collectors have for this great man, says Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President Joe Maddalena. We were honored to bring these extraordinary materials to Heritages collector-clients, as it was a thrilling way to spend his birthday.
Lindner says what was most apparent over the weekend was the appetite for material that has not appeared on the market for years, if ever.
And going forward, he says, we feel the momentum will continue, which is why were so excited about the Inaugural J. Doyle Dewitt Collection Americana & Political Signature® Auction on March 19, which features among its hundreds of historic offerings at least 50 more related to Lincoln. That auction, too, will contain some items that have not appeared on the market in more than 50 years. It promises to be yet another historic event at Heritage.