Abraham Lincoln auction sets world records at Heritage Auctions
DALLAS – The 1852 medal honoring Secretary of State Henry Clay – struck by the U.S. Mint in nearly 30 ounces of solid California gold and passed down through his family – sold for $346,000 to lead a record-setting special auction of memorabilia relating to Abraham Lincoln Sept. 17 at Heritage Auctions. The event’s $2.4 million finale was a joint endeavor between Heritage Auctions and The Rail Splitter, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication for enthusiasts of Abraham Lincoln and related memorabilia.
“This was indeed one of the most important Lincoln auctions of the last 50 years,” said Tom Slater, director of Americana Auctions at Heritage. “Never have I been so impressed and amazed at both the quality of the material and the passion of Lincoln collectors from all over the globe.”
Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.com.
Top lot honors were claimed by the solid gold medal (above) presented to Henry Clay, a leader Lincoln himself called “revered as a teacher and leader.” Bidding for the 3-1/2 inch diameter medal opened at the minimum of $75,000 and quickly advanced to $346,000.
The history behind the medal is as captivating as the design itself: three-time presidential candidate, Secretary of State, Speaker of the House, and titan of the U.S. Senate Henry Clay was by 1852 confined to his rooms in the National Hotel in Washington, slowly dying of consumption. A group of prominent New York members of Clay’s Whig Party resolved to make a special presentation to the statesman to honor his nearly half century of public service, which they accomplished shortly before Clay’s death.
A perfectly signed carte-de-visite card image of a thoughtful Lincoln (below) set a world record for an image of its type after seven bidders pushed the auction price to $175,000. The 1862 card carried an inscription on the back by John Hay, presidential secretary, certifying its authenticity.
The most intimate of keepsakes, relics and memorabilia relating to Lincoln’s personal life and that of those closest to him also brought record-setting prices. One of the most highly anticipated lots was a love letter from Lincoln to his first fiancée, Mary Owens, which sold for $137,500. Mary Todd Lincoln’s extraordinary jet black silk mourning dress (below) ensemble opened at a modest $5,000 and ignited a bidding war that ended at an astounding $100,000. “Certainly this is a record for any piece of Mary Lincoln memorabilia ever sold at auction,” Slater said.
Rare campaign memorabilia included a portrait flag of political rival Stephen A. Douglas (below), which sold for $93,750.
An 1860 portrait campaign flag depicting a beardless Lincoln (below) ended at $75,000, while a unique 1864 silk parade flag for “Lincoln and Johnson” brought $52,500.
One-of-a-kind, fresh-to-market relics from Confederate conspirators generated collector interest as the First National Confederate Flag (below) presented by Belle Boyd, aka the “Siren of the Shenandoah,” thought lost to history until recently discovered in Switzerland, sold for $62,500.
A rare lock of hair from Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth – snipped from the top of his head during his autopsy – sold for $31,250. An evocative Lincoln mourning relic of a log cabin fashioned from a lock of the president’s hair also sold for $31,250.
Additional highlights included:
- A superlative, signed carte-de-visite signed by Lincoln sold for $75,000.
- Tastefully framed, a Lincoln and Hamlin Graphic Name Political Flag brought $35,000.
- An 1858 silk presentation banner for Stephen A. Douglas ended at $25,000.
- A moving and monumental sculpture cast in .999 fine silver titled “Seated Lincoln” (after the original by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum) sold for $23,750.
- Rare and important, a bloodstained piece of the collar of the coat worn by Lincoln the night of the assassination sold for $18,750.
- A life mask of a beardless Lincoln sold for $16,250, against a $5,000 opening bid.
- A single, 9-inch china dinner plate created for the Lincoln White House sold for $16,250.
Click here to view the fully illustrated catalog for this sale, complete with prices realized.