Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2013 Issue

Ransom Note and Other Letters from First Kidnapping Sold at Freeman's Auction


Drawing of Charley Ross, from his father's book.

Charley's father published a book about the case two years later. The title is The Father’s Story of Charley Ross, the Kidnapped Child. You won't have any trouble finding copies of it online. Christian Ross would eventually spend three times the amount of the ransom - $60,000 – attempting to find his son, all to no avail. He died in 1897. Charley's mother died in 1912. Over the years, hundreds of people came forward claiming to be Charley, but investigations proved all to be imposters. At first they were young men, but by the end, they were old men making the claim. The last such claim came in 1939, when Charley would have been 69 years old. It too was discredited. By this time, the Ross kidnapping had been supplanted in the public consciousness by the much more famous Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932. The last connection to this bizarre case came to close in 1943 when Walter Ross died.


The archive offered by Freeman's Auction consisted of 23 of the 24 letters pertaining to the case. It included the ransom notes and other letters involving Mosher. There was also a note signed by policeman Westervelt. There were numerical notations, likely made by Christian Ross or his publisher. Envelopes were included too. The collection came from Germantown residents who reportedly had no idea how they came into their family's possession, only that they were together with very old family correspondence dating back to earlier generations.


The papers sold for $16,000 against an estimate of $3,000 - $5,000. Also sold at Freeman's was a $20,000 reward poster for the capture of the “thieves” and the return of Charley, dated July 22, 1874. It sold for $700 against an estimate of $100-$150. Charley Ross was remembered a bit more than the estimator must have realized. Wherever you are, Charley, rest in peace.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> <i>Manhattan Gay Scene Guide 1969, Summer Edition,</i> Mattachine Book Service. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Harvey Milk, 2 autograph letters signed, to Pat Mormon, during US Navy service, 1954. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Oscar Wilde, <i>“The secret of life is in Art,”</i> autograph quotation dated and signed, 1882. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Daniel Abraham, original art for <i>Stonewall Romances,</i> pen, ink & gouache, 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Antonio Lopez, 9 men’s fashion studies, graphite, 1974. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Susie Gaynes & Amy E. Bartell, <i>March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights,</i> 1987. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> <i>Paris is Burning,</i> photo offset poster by Anne Dutlinger, signed by film director Jennie Livingston, 1991. $400 to $600.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Toyen, pen & ink illustration from <i>Marquis de Sade: Justina cili prokletí ctnosti,</i> 1932. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> David Wojnarowicz, <i>Untitled (Genet with Dog),</i> mixed media collage. $8,000 to $12,000.

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