Forbes Auction Completes After $40 Million in Sales
By Michael Stillman
The record-setting Forbes book and manuscript auction came to a conclusion this past May 22. Auctioneer Christie's described it as setting "a record total for any collection of books or manuscripts ever sold at auction." The auction took place in six sessions, the first in March 2002, the sixth just a few days ago. In total, sales from the Forbes collection totaled almost $41 million ($40,971,640 to be exact). The collection was known as "the Forbes Collection of American Historical Documents," which describes what Malcolm Forbes collected. These were overwhelmingly manuscript items with very notable American signatures.
Malcolm Forbes made his first purchase, a note from Abraham Lincoln, while a freshman at Princeton. He paid on credit. By the time he became a major purchaser, in the 1960s, he no longer needed terms. Forbes made a personal fortune publishing the magazine which bears his name. From the 1960s through the 1980s, he was active at virtually every important historical document auction. Forbes died in 1990, and the collection devolved to his son, one-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes. The latter determined to break up the collection and sell most of the material at auction. Now, five years after it began, the auction has finally concluded.
At the top end of the auction prices was Lincoln's copy of the last speech he gave, three days before he was assassinated. It sold for just over $3 million. Einstein's letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt sold for over $2 million, a record for a letter, while Abraham Lincoln's opera glasses, carried by the President that fateful night at Ford's Theater, brought in $424,000.
The top price at the sixth and final session was $132,000, for a signed letter from George Washington to Bryan Fairfax. Fairfax was a long-time good friend of Washington, member of what had been an aristocratic family in the colonial era. The letter was dated June 15, 1783, the Revolution now over and with Washington preparing to return home from headquarters in Newburgh, New York. Notes a tired Washington, "I now, only await the arrival of the Definitive Treaty to bid adieu to public life…" Of course, it would not be so easy for Washington, as his eight years as head of the army would soon be followed by eight years as his nation's president. No, Washington did not get to "pass the remainder of my life in a state of undisturbed repose." However, the father of his nation was more on target when he cautioned the newly independent states to form an "indissoluble union."