Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2008 Issue

<i>In The News:</i> The Most Expensive American Letter Ever Auctioned, BookFinder, Via Libri & More

Abraham Lincoln writes Mrs. Horace Mann's schoolchildren.


By Michael Stillman

A fabulous Lincoln letter, magnificent both for its content and price, broke all kinds of U.S. auction records at Sotheby's last month. The President wrote the 1864 letter in response to a petition he had received from schoolchildren in the Concord, Massachusetts, class of Mary Mann, widow of famed educator and abolitionist Horace Mann. Their petition was headed "Petition of the children of the United States; (under 18 years) that the President will free all slave children." In his reply, Lincoln writes, "Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it." If it sounds odd that Lincoln was not willing to free slaves in 1864, long after the Emancipation Proclamation, it must be remembered that the Proclamation only freed slaves in states in rebellion against the United States. Slavery was still legal in the border Union states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia.

This letter was sold for a record price of $3,401,000. Sotheby's noted that this was not only a record price for a Lincoln manuscript, but for any presidential or any American manuscript ever sold at auction. It was sold to an unnamed American telephone bidder.

Another Lincoln highlight from the auction was the only known signature of the President signed at Gettysburg the day of his inspirational address. Lincoln's signature, along with those of a few other notables in attendance, such as Secretary of State William Seward, was written in a souvenir album. The album sold for $937,000. Another most notable letter came from an imprisoned John Brown, two weeks before his hanging. He reiterates the justness of his abolitionist cause, and makes an interesting point about his jailor, who fought bravely to capture Brown, but then evidently received much grief for treating him humanely. Pens Brown, "Cowards prove their courage by their ferocity. It may be done in that way with but little risk." Brown's letter sold for $82,000. In all, the American manuscript auction took in $5,649,330.

BookFinder, the multi-site book search engine, released a survey to make a point about bargains. They searched ten recent bestsellers on their site and did a comparison with the list prices. On average, they found used copies of recent books could be located online for 60% off the original price. They compared this to the 6% discount offered by a leading chain. At the top of the list was the most recent Harry Potter saga, that had people lined up at bookstores at midnight a few months back for the honor of paying the retail price of $34.99. BookFinder found copies as low as $6.73. BookFinder noted that unlike many other book sites, they provide prices which include shipping, so that 81% discount on Harry Potter is real.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [RUTH, George Herman “Babe” (1895-1948)]. Signed photograph. Circa 1930s. 191 x 248 mm. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HARRISON, Benjamin. Document signed (“Benj Harrison”) as governor of Virginia, certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a Black Revolutionary soldier. $6,000 to $9,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: ONE OF THE FIRST PRINTED ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: FIRST PRINTING OF LINCOLN’S IMMORTAL GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HIGHLY IMPORTANT MORMON ARCHIVE. ALLEY, George. Archive of 23 Autograph Letters Signed by Mormon Convert George Alley to His Brother Joseph Alley. $10,000 to $20,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [AVIATION]. [ARMSTRONG, Neil A.] Aviation Hall of Fame Gold Medal MS64 NGC, Awarded to Neil Armstrong in 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: NEWLY DISCOVERED FIRST PRINTING OF "WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE... " FROM THE ONLY NEWSPAPER ACTUALLY ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL PROCESSION. $4,000 to $8,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: THE MOST IMPORTANT GEORGE WASHINGTON DOCUMENT IN PRIVATE HANDS; GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COMMISSION AS COMMANDER IN CHIEF, 1775, ONE OF ONLY TWO ORIGINALS. $150,000 to $250,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: A VERY RARE ACCOUNT OF BLACKBEARD’S DEATH AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIRATE ITEMS EXTANT. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [VIETNAM WAR]. The original pen used by Secretary of State William P. Rogers to sign the Vietnam Peace Agreement, Paris, 27 January 1973. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: SONS OF LIBERTY FOUNDER COLONEL BARRÉ ANNOTATED TITLE-PAGE, “WHICH OUGHT TO ROUSE UP BRITISH ATTENTION”. $4,000 to $6,000.

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