Published: February 22, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Heritage Auctions
DALLAS – A 226-lot sale, scheduled to take place at Heritage Auctions on the weekend of Abraham Lincoln’s 213th birthday, featured not only documents with his signature but relics of his assassination, singular gifts to the 16th president and mementos from his time in office. The sale grossed $4,264,724, with more than 98 percent trading hands successfully.
“We’re beyond thrilled,” Curtis Lindner, Heritage’s director of Americana said. “We knew we had good material and we had more than $2 million in left bids before the sale started but we didn’t know how much action we’d see over the weekend.”
The top lot of the sale at $519,000 was a pocketknife presented by organizers of the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair to Lincoln after he, Mary Todd Lincoln and their son, Tad, visited the fair on June 16, 1864. Housed in a custom-fitted hinged eagle-inlaid oak box, the knife was presented by Alfred B. Justice, who wrote Lincoln a letter, now in the Lincoln papers at the Library of Congress, that was signed by 135 citizens, testifying to their “profound respect for you as a man and a statesman.” Lincoln was pleased enough by the gift that he wrote a letter to Justice on Executive Mansion stationery that read “Mr. A.B. Justice & others / I have received at the hands of Wm. D. Kelley, a very beautiful and ingeniously constructed Pocket Knife, accompanied by your kind letter of presentation. The gift is gratefully accepted and will be highly valued, not only as an extremely creditable specimen of American workmanship, but as a manifestation of your regard and esteem which I most cordially appreciate. / Your Ob’t serv’t / A. Lincoln.”
Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, was arguably one of the most pivotal moments in American history and one that captured the attention of the world. It is not surprising that relics connected with that historic event continue to resonate with collectors. A well-documented key to the presidential box at Ford’s Theater realized $495,000, the second highest price in the sale. The key had been in the Sang Collection, as well as, most recently, the collection of Dr John Lattimer, the bulk of whose Lincoln collection Heritage offered in a single-owner sale in 2008, but this was the first time Heritage had offered it.
Half of the sale was from the collection of Dr Blaine Houmes and was led at $93,750 by a bloodstained cuff worn by Lincoln on the day he was shot. Other relics from the assassination – from Houmes and other sellers – included a fragment of Mary Todd Lincoln’s black lace veil worn to the theater that brought $37,500, the same price achieved by a bloodstained snippet of a dress worn by actress Laura Keene who cradled Lincoln’s head in her lap while awaiting medical attention. Two framed pieces of the silk bunting that had hung from Lincoln’s box closed at $32,500, while bidders pushed a blue pasteboard ticket to Ford’s Theater to $21,250.
It is difficult to say whether pieces Lincoln owned personally are more popular than items connected with his death, but an early cabinet marble bust of Lincoln, carved by Leonard Volk (1828-1895) and presented to Lincoln in 1860, was an example of the former. Heritage referred to the 12Ã½-inch-tall bust (15 inches including its wooden base) as “the most exciting and historically significant Lincoln artifact ever to appear on the open market.” If there was hyperbole in that statement, the $399,000 price it achieved suggests otherwise. The bust had occupied pride of place in Lincoln’s Springfield home; once the Lincoln family moved to Washington, Lincoln gave it to his friend and neighbor, Reverend Noyes Miner, who ultimately spoke at his funeral service. It has been in the Miner family ever since.
Documents written by Lincoln comprised a sizeable portion of the sale and were led at $325,000 by a letter Lincoln wrote to the Army of the Potomac after the Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, that foreshadowed themes he would deliver less than a year later in his Gettysburg address.
Lindner’s next Americana and Political Signature sale will take place March 19-20, with the collection of J. Doyle Dewitt, whose collection has been warehoused since his death in 1972.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For more information, www.ha.com.
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