Saturday, October 07, 2006

Auctioning Abraham Lincoln memorabilia; Lincolniana
By Robert A. Doyle, CAI, ISA, CES, CAGA

50th President of the National Auctioneers Association
Principal Auctioneer/Appraiser Absolute Auction & Realty, Inc.

Robert A. Doyle


Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president, born in 1809, is perhaps the most collected of all the past presidents.

America’s founding father, George Washington is also extremely popular. However, in perusing early auction catalogs it is evident that there were more auction sales offering major collections of Lincoln memorabilia than those depicting Washington material.

Is it a coincidence that Washington is on the $1 bill and Lincoln is displayed on the $5? Perhaps the answer is as simple as there was more Lincoln memorabilia available to collect then Washingtonia.

Illustrated in this article are three samples of auction catalogs published by the Anderson Auction Company of New York City. The dates of the catalogs are 1904, 1907 and 1914. From these catalogs can be gleaned insight into the types of material collected and even prices paid.

Of the three catalogs the most informative is the 1914 example containing the most complete collection of Lincolniana. This major collection was assembled by Major William H. Lambert (1842-1912). A personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, Lambert’s collection was considered one of the finest. Many of the items were gotten directly from the president.

According to the catalog, “Major William H. Lambert was a distinguished veteran of the Civil War, a prominent business man, and well known in public and social life and as an historical writer, lecturer, and collector. He died in his home in Philadelphia, PA, which was his home for nearly 70 years. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service during the Civil War.

Knowing and admiring President Lincoln, he became a serious collector of Lincolniana. Lambert was the first president of the Lincoln Fellowship, formed in 1907 and based in the Fifth Ave. Hotel in New York City. This early collecting society was formed just two years prior to the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Lincoln.

1909 was to be a major National Centennial event to commemorate Lincoln’s Birthday. By the way, the first state to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday, declaring it a legal holiday, was Illinois (his home state) in 1892. Over the next 17 years many states followed suit. However, in 1909 it became a national gala holiday. This celebration was the largest since the 1876 Centennial of America’s birth.

According to the catalog, “Major Lambert began collecting material related to Abraham Lincoln immediately after the Civil War, and it is generally conceded, by all who really know, that his Lincoln collection was the greatest in this country. Besides autograph letters and manuscripts, he owned all the Lincoln funeral sermons printed and accessible, many personal relics, such as Lincoln’s writing desk used in his law office in Springfield, all the known engravings and photographs, and many other items.”

The 124-page illustrated catalog describes 1028 lots sold over five sessions in three days. Sales were in the afternoon, 2:30, and evening – 8:15 PM. It appears that sessions averaged about two hundred lots. The Auctioneer was George D. Morse. The terms were simple and fairly standard for the early 20th Century galleries. A few items worth noting: The cost of the catalog was $2.50 ($45.85 in today’s equivalent dollars). The preview/exhibition spanned nine days prior to the first session. It is also interesting to note that absentee bids were handled at no charge and in a competitive manner.

A sampling of lots from the catalog include a military poem titled “Abram” signed by “A Young Rebelle” and dated 1863 that sold for $80. (Today’s value of $1,469.09), Lincoln’s own Webster’s dictionary with notes - $730 ($13,387.23), another book from his library with notes that it was used for formulating his first anti-slavery speech was titled “The Life and Speeches of Henry Clay,” By Henry Clay - $450 (8,252.40).

One of the rare broadsides offering a “$100,000 REWARD! THE MURDERER” of our late President fetched $400 (7,335.47). A bronze cast of a life-mask of Lincoln done by the artist L.W. Volk in 1860 went under the hammer at $325 (5,960.07).

Original playbills from Ford’s theatre from the day of the assassination fetched $675 ($12,378.60). The famous Lincoln-signed Emancipation Proclamation, one of 50 authorized copies of the original, brought $3,250 ($59,600.67).

Emancipation Proclamation
According to the information found on the website of the “Anti-Slavery Society,” “On January 1, 1863 President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. There are several aspects, which should be noted. First, Lincoln issued it in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy as a “necessary war measure.”

Secondly, when issued it did not immediately free a single slave. This is because its application was limited to those parts of North America, which were still under the control of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America. It did not apply to those Slave States, such as Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri which had not seceded from the Union, nor did it apply to those parts of the Confederate States of America, such parts of Virginia (which was later admitted to the Union as West Virginia) and Florida., which had been occupied by and remained under the control of US forces at that date.

These limitations were necessary for constitutional reasons. In other words, unlike a dictatorship where the people could be “decreed” to free slaves, our country is governed by the rule of law. Simply put, he did not have the power to free all the slaves with his proclamation.

A private and confidential letter from Lincoln to Lyman Trumbull dated Dec. 10, 1860 took a very strong stance on the extension of slavery in the Union. “Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery. If there be, all our labor is lost, and ere long must be done over again. This is dangerous ground – stand firm. The tug has to come; and better now than any time hereafter.” The letter sold for $1,100. ($20,172.53)

The 1914 catalog offered a lock of Lincoln’s hair. Recently a strand of Lincoln’s hair sold at auction. It is amusing to compare the results. Lot 825, in 1914 boasted a lock of hair cut from Lincoln’s head after he was shot. It sold for $330 (6,051.76). In comparison, $10,575 was paid for a strand of Lincoln’s hair recently at Bonhams & Butterfields of Los Angeles, CA.

Lloyd Ostendorf of Dayton, Ohio assembled the recent auction of Lincolniana. The collection fetched a total of $942,370. Major Lambert’s auction, according to the handwritten notations totaled $49,850, converting to $914,182.53 in today’s money (CPI). It’s great to see that the Auction Method of Marketing is working just as well as it did 89 years ago.



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