Monday, February 16, 2009

Can you really put a price on Lincoln?

Feb. 16, 2009
Posted by Noah

Given that today is President’s Day, the day that originally celebrated the birth of the one and only George Washington, and then grew somewhere in the mid-1980s to encompass that of America’s favorite president, Abraham Lincoln – and all our other presidents, too… – I thought I’d take a look at the historical material legacy of Lincoln, given that he has featured prominently in many Heritage Historical Auctions, and is probably still the most sought-after of all U.S. Presidents when it come to presidential memorabilia.

Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, and the day is still celebrated on its own in many states. Given that I’m some five days late for that specific day, and today is the aforementioned holiday, I’m going to assume that you’ve already forgiven my tardiness. There was a recent survey of influential contemporary Presidential historians about how our presidents rank historically, and the results were published here in today’s online USA Today. Number one and two are, respectively, numbers 16 and 1. No surprise there.

The truth is that, while you can’t even begin to put a price on Lincoln’s impact on American identity and philosophy, you can put a price on memorabilia directly linked to The Great Emancipator. There’s an archive of hundreds of Lincoln and Lincoln-related memorabilia right here. The top lot is not actually a Lincoln lot – it’s a Custer battle flag – but I can’t get the search to omit it. Oh well. The top true Lincoln lot from Heritage was a pair of Lincoln spectacles that sat on that lofty and terribly weighted brow during The Civil War. They are an amazing relic, literally drenched in the sweat of history – did I really just write that? – and having born witness to some of the darkest most mythic days of American history. They brought nearly $180,000 last November in Gettysburg. Amazing stuff.

“We’ve offered some tremendously important pieces, and we have developed as specialists in Lincoln material,” said our resident expert generalist and Historical Consignment Director Marsha Dixey. “We were fortunate a few years ago to have been selected to offer the Henry E. Luhrs Lincoln Library Collection. More recently we offered the historical Collection of Lincolniana of Dr. John Lattimer. Within the Luhrs collection were 121 legal briefs and a number of letters, some in Lincoln's hand and some signed by Lincoln himself. The Dr. John Lattimer Collection consisted of documents as well, but the highlights of this collection were the artifacts and pieces that actually belonged to Lincoln. Outside of these two collections, we offered a phenomenal Lincoln campaign flag in 2007. The flag brought one of the highest auction prices recorded for such a piece.”

You can see the demand is there, and with good reason. It’s an endlessly fascinating field. A happy 200th to ol’ Honest Abe.

As an aside, when I interviewed for my current position at Heritage last summer, during my rounds of the departments I came into the Historical Auctions secret undisclosed location. The department was preparing for the Gettysburg Auction and, in discussing the upcoming auction with Dixey, she casually handed me one of the upcoming lots. It was the blood-stained collar from Lincoln’s shirt, cut from the fallen President on Ruination Day, April 14, 1865. I stood there, stunned, delicately cradling history, unable to speak. Welcome to Heritage, I thought.