Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2018 Issue

Rare Books & Collectibles: Fake News

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Lincoln and his hat were inseparable

Lincoln would have something to say about this and it would be witty if this was a laughing matter.  But it’s not and he wouldn’t.  The story goes, and various images show, that President Lincoln attended a play at the Ford Theatre on April 14, 1865.  There he would be shot by John Wilkes Booth and die the following morning in a nearby boarding house.  At 5:21 am on the 15th he passed away and as he did, gave birth to the Lincoln ephemera market that has grown by leaps and bounds over the ensuing decades.

 

Anything he owned or simply touched immediately became a collectible.  Anything he signed became valuable. Anything said to be connected was enough to set the hounds braying.

 

But.

 

In Illinois the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is thinking about selling some of its collection to get cashflow positive and they are encountering the higher standards of auction authentication that apply today.  We know this because the New York Times recently wrote about a stovepipe hat the institution is thinking about selling that, so far, lacks conclusive authentication as one of Abe’s chapeaus.  It is the right size and the hat band is stretched, as was Lincoln’s habit, to store notes and papers there but otherwise there are no conclusive links.  This has caused the library to commission studies by the FBI and others including DNA analysis  but so far, no DNA or other factors support its Presidential connection.  Without that connection the hat is worth perhaps $100 and the hat was the capstone of a $23 million investment the Lincoln Museum made.  Ouch!

 

Provenance has long been the gold standard for collecting.  An item known to have been owned, annotated, signed or bound in a personally identifiable way can add enormously to value.

 

The temptation to fudge such details is therefore very strong.  The world is awash in unsigned paintings that are magically transformed into highly desirable collectibles when links to the famous or infamous are confirmed and many are the culprits willing to add telltale details to strengthen such connections.  It’s really nothing new.

 

What has changed are two factors.  Legal safeguards protecting buyers are increasing and scholarship, once the province of a few, is now available on line to the interested and attentive at nominal cost.   So we have a better informed field and laws that better protect buyers against fraud or error.   There aren’t really any statutes of limitation. 

 

The open window in the otherwise impenetrable fortresses of valuation is that increasingly the cost efficient transfer is not to new buyers via the auction path, but rather by gift to institutions who are not inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth.  And that’s okay if the donor receives the anticipated tax credit and the institution never sells.  When they do, however, if by auction, the changing standards of evaluation will, in effect, cause such material to be reconfirmed and there is no saying that the optimistic approach taken when material is gifted will be reaffirmed by the sellers, particularly auction houses, if these things come their way.

 

In Illinois these days the issue is straightforward.  They have bills to pay and material that can be sold to lighten the burden so long as the true value can be understood and estimated.  This suggests that the research has to be done before the purchase or acceptance as a gift.  It seems impolite to look a gift horse in the mouth but actually, that’s exactly what needs to happen.  Otherwise, you can end up looking like a horse’s ass.

 


Posted On: 2018-10-07 20:04
User Name: chicago15

There are two billionaires currently running for the office of Governor of Illinois. Either one or both of them could resolve this difficulty - and likely win some votes - by donating half or all of the less than 10 million dollars the Lincoln Presidential Library needs to get out of these difficulties. Would that not be a nice thing to do?


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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