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1865 Lincoln manhunt broadside sets auction record at Heritage

An 1865 broadside promising $100,000 for information leading to the capture of President Abraham Lincoln's assassin sold for the record-setting price of $275,000 at Heritage Auctions in late September.
An 1865 broadside promising $100,000 for information leading to the capture of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin sold for the record-setting price of $275,000 at Heritage Auctions in late September.

DALLAS – It was a rarity made for what has been called “the most important manhunt in American history” … and the savviest of collectors knew it. A $100,000 reward broadside issued by the U.S. War Department, April 20, 1865, created after John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, sold for a record $275,000 to lead Heritage Auctions’ Sept. 25-26 Americana & Political Auction, including the Brook Mahoney collection of George Washington Inaugural Buttons, to $2,170,799 in total sales.

The price broke the previous auction record for a Booth broadside of $214,200 set earlier this year at Sotheby’s.

“This broadside called for the public’s help after what has to be considered the most important murder in American history,” Heritage Auctions Americana & Political Director Curtis Lindner said. “Lincoln was one of the most popular and important presidents in the history of the country, and his assassination immediately became national news, international news. His impact on the country is difficult to quantify, as was the significance of his death.”

The $100,000 reward was an enormous sum at the time, equating to roughly $1.6 million today. Half was designated for the arrest of Booth, “in addition to any reward offered by Municipal Authorities or State Executives,” while $25,000 for the apprehension of John H. Surratt (misspelled “Surrat”) and David C. Herold (misspelled “Harold”). Signed in print by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, this broadside, which carried a pre-auction estimate of $50,000+, is one of just a handful of copies known to remain in existence.

Also eclipsing the $200,000 plateau was a George Washington: Pater Patriæ… the Holy Grail of George Washington inaugural buttons, which brought $212,500. One of the gems of the Brook Mahoney collection of George Washington Inaugural buttons – a trove from which 31 lots sold in the auction – the button is the only portrait button in the accepted canon of George Washington inaugural buttons, and has long been coveted by collectors of Washington memorabilia and items from that period of history. It may also be the earliest artifact that refers to Washington as the “Father of His Country,” and is one of fewer than 10 examples remaining in existence.

Presidential china, especially from Lincoln’s presidency, often is in high demand among top collectors, and this sale was no exception, as a White House china celery dish realized $93,750, a record for Lincoln-era presidential china and nearly five times its pre-auction estimate. Pieces offered most commonly are round desert plates or dinner plates, making this oval-shaped plate an unquestioned rarity.

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