Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2007 Issue

Forbes Auction Completes After $40 Million in Sales

Forbes

Publisher and collector Malcolm Forbes.


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 The collection was known as "the Forbes Collection of American Historical Documents," which describes what Malcolm Forbes collected.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 From the 1960s through the 1980s, he was active at virtually every important historical document auction.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."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br> The Library of Henry Rogers<br>Broughton, 2nd Baron Fairhaven<br>Part I<br>18 May 2022</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, May 18:</b> John James Audubon and James Bachman. <i>The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.</i> New York: J.J. Audubon, 1845-1848. £150,000 to £250,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, May 18:</b> Thomas and William Daniell. <i>Oriental Scenery,</i> London, 1795-1807 [but 1841], 6 parts in 3 volumes, folio. £150,000 to £200,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, May 18:</b> Mark Catesby. <i>The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands...</i> London, 1731-1743, 2 volumes. £100,000 to £150,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, May 18:</b> Gould and Lear. <i>A monograph of the Ramphastidae,</i> 1854; <i>Illustrations of the family of Psittacidae,</i> 1832. £60,000 to £90,000.
  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Graphic Design<br>May 19, 2022</b>
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, <i>Triplex,</i> pencil maquette, 1930. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Claude Fayette Brandon, <i>The Chap Book,</i> circa 1895. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Various Artists, a complete set of <i>Das Plakat,</i> set of 10 hardcover volumes, 1912-21. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Javier Gómez Acebo & Máximo Viejo Santamarta, <i>San Sebastian / XI Circuitto Automovilista,</i> 1935. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Ephraim Moses Lilien, <i>Berliner Tageblatt,</i> circa 1899. $12,000 to $18,000.
  • <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 30</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> Initial A on vellum, Cologne around 1300. Est: €25,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> J. A. du Cerceau, <i>Les plus excellents bastiments de France,</i> 1607. Est: €12,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> E. Cerillo, <i>Dipinti murali di Pompei,</i> 1886. Est: €2,500
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 30</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> L. de Austria, <i>Compilatio de astrorum scientia,</i> 1489. Est: €9,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> B. Besler, <i>Hortus Eystettensis,</i> around 1750. Est: €50,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> <i>PAN,</i> 1895-1900. Est: €15,000
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 30</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> F. Colonna, <i>Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,</i> 1545. Est: €40,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> F. Schiller, <i>Die Räuber,</i> 1781. Est: €12,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> J. Albers, <i>Formulation : Articulation,</i> 1972. Est: €18,000
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 30</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> G. B. Ramusio, <i>Delle navigationi e viaggi,</i> 1556-1613. Est: €14,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> M. Wied Neuwied, <i>Reise in das Innere Nord-America,</i> 1839-41. Est: €12,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b> E. Paolozzi, <i>Bunk,</i> 1972. Est: €25,000

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