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Marketplace 2020

November 8, 2020

Sotheby’s held a manuscripts sale on January 27th, following “Americana Week” in New York. Here is their catalog description for a Lincoln letter with exceptional content:


One page (9 3/4 x 7 3/4 in.; 248 x 197 mm) on blue-ruled machine-laid paper, Springfield, 21 May 1860, docketed on verso; lightly soiled and stained, some fold separations and tiny marginal chips.

Lincoln seeks divine assistance as the Republican candidate for the presidency: “May the Almighty grant that the cause of truth, justice, and humanity, shall in no wise suffer at my hands.”

Three days before writing this letter, Abraham Lincoln learned by telegraph that he had been nominated for President by the Republican Party Convention in Chicago. Joshua R. Giddings, an ardent abolitionist who had just retired from the House of Representatives after serving as a congressman from Ohio for more than two decades, wrote a letter of congratulations to Lincoln stating that the latter had secured the nomination because of his honesty and freedom from corrupt men and advising that the candidate should place himself under obligation to no one. Giddings entrusted the letter to Amos Tuck, a former U.S. Representative from Exeter, New Hampshire, who was delivering a speech at Springfield on May 21.

Lincoln here warmly acknowledges Giddings’s letter, while expressing some apprehension at the daunting task he faced. “My good friend. Your very kind and acceptable letter of the 19th. was duly handed me by Mr. Tuck. It is indeed, most grateful to my feelings, that the responsible position assigned me, comes without conditions, save only such honorable ones as are fairly implied. I am not wanting in the purpose, though I may fail in the strength, to maintain my freedom from bad influences. Your letter comes to my aid in this point, most opportunely. May the Almighty grant that the cause of truth, justice, and humanity, shall in no wise suffer at my hands.” Lincoln closes on a personal note: “Mrs. L. joins me in sincere wishes for your health, happiness, and long life.”
The uncertainty evident in Lincoln’s wish that he be equal to the task was predicated on the issues that would bring on the dissolution of the Union and Civil War. His election, though, was never really in doubt: with the fractured Democrat Party essentially running three rival candidates (Stephen A. Douglas, Northern Democratic Party; John C. Breckenridge, Southern Democratic Party; and John Bell, Constitutional Union Party) their vote was hopelessly split, and Lincoln swept to an overwhelming Electoral College victory despite polling less than forty percent of the popular vote.
The letters of both Giddings and Lincoln demonstrate that they were unaware of the backroom machinations of Lincoln’s campaign managers at the Chicago convention, which included promises of cabinet positions for some of the other contenders for the nomination. Giddings himself benefited from Lincoln’s election; the President appointed him as U.S. consul general in Canada, a position he filled until his death at Montreal in May 1864.
LITERATURE: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Basler, 4:51–52 (text from the retained draft in the Lincoln Papers, with the recipient’s copy unlocated). Selling price: $175,000.

HCA Auctions in North Carolina conducted a sale on January 18th which included a large selection of Confederate material. A 14” x 8.5” broadside announcing a rally celebrating Georgia’s secession from the Union on January 19, 1861, sold for $4687. It is the only example we recall seeing.

A small silk Confederate Bible flag caught our eye when offered on eBay. The eleven stitched stars in the canton were arranged like a South Carolina palmetto tree. The central white stripe was embroidered “Jeff. Davis forever!” Found tucked in an old book, it saw a look of action and realized $4050. 

Wes Cowan held a timed sale which concluded on January 24th. A 12 1/4” x 17 1/2” folk art portrait of Lincoln, after the Hesler photograph, sold for $544. It was an oil on canvas, laid on board, and signed indistinctly in the upper right corner. The cataloger thought it might date from 1860. Maybe. 

Leland Little of Hillsborough, North Carolina held a sale on January 24th. A 48-page pamphlet, printed in New York City in 1863, lacking the rear cover, generated a lot of interest. It recounted the horrors visited upon the colored population of the city and documented the relief efforts mounted in the aftermath of the carnage. Private citizens raised $40,000 in this cause. The booklet, which apparently is very rare, sold for $1353. 

Christies held a sale which included a marble bust of Lincoln, executed in 1918 by George Grey Barnard (1863-1938). It “stood” 21 1/2” tall. Enough people liked it to push the price up to $17,500. A solid, weighty purchase. 

A very unusual CDV with a “St. Louis Agency” mark back depicts Grant in his dress uniform. We don’t recall seeing any other examples. Offered on eBay, the winning bid was $293.

A 4” x 6” brass stencil promoting Andrew Johnson in the 1864 election is a previously-unknown item and was likely used to decorate envelopes sent through the emails. Offered on eBay, it sold for $410.

Stack’s recently held a sale in Baltimore, part of the annual Whitman Coin Show. A copper example of AL-1864-5, graded MS66, sold for $5280.

The matching McClellan, GMcC-1864-21, graded MS65, went for $1680.

A very rare assassination medal by George Lovett, Baker-230, climbed to a record high of $5040. Many of the pieces in this sale were from the William Spohn Baker Collection of Washingtoniana held by a Pennsylvania historical society since 1897.

An eBay vendor is currently offering a Fassett CDV of Union General Joseph Hooker in his dress uniform, tagged at $450 (Buy-It-Now). Hooker was in Chicago as commander of the army contingent of the “Lincoln Honor Guard” escorting the President’s body enroute to its burial in Springfield. Fassett supposedly photographed all the officers in this elite cadre during their brief stopover in Chicago.