Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2008 Issue

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

Lincoln

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

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Scott Joplin, <i>Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts,</i> New York, 1911. Sold March 24 — $40,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Louisa May Alcott, autograph letter signed, 1868. Sold June 2 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Anne Bradstreet, <i>Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, full of Delight,</i> Boston, 1758. Sold June 2 — $21,250.
    <b>Swann:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The Second Impression,</i> London, 1632. Sold May 5 — $161,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Bronte, <i>Jane Eyre,</i> first edition, London, 1847. Sold June 16 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Elihu Vedder, <i>Simple Simon, His Book,</i> 1913. Sold June 9 — $12,350.
    <b>Swann:</b> Frederick Catherwood, <i>Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,</i> London, 1844. Sold April 7 — $37,500.
  • <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> George Washington ADS, One of the Earliest in His Hand, A Survey from 1752, the Same Year He Inherited Mount Vernon.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Rare JFK Signed Check & Transmittal Letter During Campaign for 1956 VP Nomination, Both BAS Slabbed; Possibly A Unique Combo!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Daniel Boone Signed Receipt as VA Delegate; During His 1st of 3 Terms, Boone Was Kidnapped by British Forces Gunning for Gov. T. Jefferson & Other Legislators.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Benjamin Franklin Signed Receipt for “Pennsylvania Gazette,” Important & Beautifully Displayed
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lincoln & His Civil War Cabinet: 8 Signatures, Beautifully Presented!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> G.A. Custer ALS from Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory to Capt. Yates, Who Also Died at Little Bighorn, Re: Acquiring “good horses” from Kentucky for 7th Cavalry.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Jefferson Davis ALS: “the negroes are humble and generally inclined to cling to their masters…neither crop or stock could be protected from their thieving” – Incredible!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lee Harvey Oswald Signed Letter: “if we finally get back to the states…maybe we’ll…settle in Texas,” Warren Commission Exhibit.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Babe Ruth First Edition Biography Signed Just Months Before His Death, Excellent Signature!
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> “B Arnold” ANS on Pre-Revolutionary War Promissory Note Dating From His Days as a New Haven Merchant
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Bob Dylan Signed LP “Blonde on Blonde” with Jeff Rosen COA.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio Signed Checks, Handsomely Displayed.

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