Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2009 Issue

Lincoln Speech Tops Auction Sales at Over $3.4 Million

Lincolnletter03-09

Lincoln: firm in purpose, magnanimous in victory.


By Michael Stillman

It took only 43 days of 2009 for last year's top price paid at auction in the book and manuscript category to be surpassed. The results could not be more fitting. The item was an Abraham Lincoln manuscript, and the auction was held on Lincoln's 200th birthday, February 12, 2009. It was a happy birthday for Lincoln and the small upstate New York library which previously owned the manuscript.

The item was a handwritten copy of the speech Lincoln gave from a White House window on November 10, 1864, two days after he was reelected to the presidency. Earlier in the year, it appeared doubtful this day would ever come. Even as late as that summer, Lincoln appeared to be badly trailing his Democratic opponent, the former leader of the Union Army, General George McClellan. McClellan ran on a "peace" platform that effectively meant capitulation to the Confederacy and a return to slavery. Nevertheless, the North was tired of the long, and seemingly unsuccessful war. They had had enough.

All of this turned around at the end of summer when Sherman marched through Georgia and captured Atlanta. What had appeared to be an unending stalemate turned sharply in favor of the Union. Victory, so long elusive, seemed almost certain now. Lincoln's popularity was restored and he swept to a decisive reelection. And so, two evenings later, with a large celebratory crowd gathered on the White House lawn, Lincoln appeared at one of the windows, and to candlelight read the speech sold last month at Christie's in New York. In his speech, Lincoln, as always, remained firm to his purpose while being conciliatory to those who had opposed him. Of particular note in this speech, Lincoln focused on the importance of holding free elections, even in the midst of war. Lincoln states that the election "... was a necessity," for "we cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us."

Lincoln's letter sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $3,442,500. That tops the most expensive item at auction last year, another Lincoln document, which sold for $3,401,000. That item was a letter Lincoln wrote to some schoolchildren concerning slavery.

The victory manuscript came with its own interesting history. When Lincoln died, his papers, some 20,000 documents in all, went to his son Robert Todd Lincoln, the only Lincoln child to survive to adulthood. Robert, who served as Secretary of War in the Garfield and Arthur administrations, and as Minister to Great Britain in the Harrison administration, carefully guarded his father's papers. However, he occasionally gave away documents his father had written or signed to people who had in some way notably honored his father. Such was the case with the victory speech, given away in 1916. A few years later, Robert Lincoln would turn all of the remainder of his father's papers over to the Library of Congress, where they remain today.

This speech was given to New York Congressman John W. Dwight. Dwight had been instrumental in getting funding from Congress for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Included in the auction lot with Lincoln's speech was his son's letter to Dwight expressing his appreciation and presenting him with the document. In 1926, Dwight gave the Lincoln speech to his hometown library, that being the Southworth Library in the small upstate New York town of Dryden, east of Ithaca. There it has remained, rarely seen over the years. It was displayed during the bicentennial in 1976, but most of the time it was kept in a secure, off-site location. Finally, the library decided it made sense to sell the unseen letter to raise the funds necessary to expand their building.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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