CINCINNATI – Select items from the Eric C. Caren Archive, arguably the single most significant private collection of historic documents in the United States, will be offered at Cowan’s Auctions on Friday, Sept. 8. The auction will be held in Cowan’s showroom. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.
Featuring newspapers, periodicals, broadsides, photographs, ephemera and other items dating from the 16th century to the present, the archive comprises an unsurpassed physical record of the history of the United States and beyond.
“After 25 years in the business of selling historical Americana, I’ve seen plenty of accumulations and impressive collections, but nothing prepared me for the Caren Archive,” said Wes Cowan, principle auctioneer and executive chairman of Cowan’s. “The amount of paper Americana Eric has gathered in one place is simply staggering.”
The Caren Archive has already yielded four auctions, including a million-dollar event at Christie’s earlier this year, yet interest in items from the archive remains insatiable.
“We have such a wide range of items in the sale, there really is something for every collector,” said Katie Horstman, Cowan’s director of American History. “We go from 16th-century European maps to 20th-century rock concert posters and hit all the major historical moments in between.”
The top lot in the auction is expected to be a large-format photograph of Abraham Lincoln and his son, Tad (above). The last formal photo of the president, it was taken at Alexander Gardner’s studio in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5, 1865. The work is estimated at $15,000 to $25,000. The image is housed in an exceptional folk art frame with carved features that include a representation of the Emancipation Proclamation and a broken chain that symbolizes freedom for U.S. slaves.
Newspapers are a major part of the Caren Archive. Among those offered is an extremely rare issue of The Boston News-Letter, the first continuously published American newspaper, dated March 10-17, 1718, expected to realize $2,000 to $3,000. Printed in that issue was news of the surrender of pirates in the Caribbean and text of a speech by King George I. The Boston News-Letter was first printed in 1704, a time when no other city in North America had a regular newspaper.
Also from the early days of the nation comes a powder horn depicting the end of the Siege of Boston in March 1776, having arguably the earliest known representation of the stars and stripes together on an American flag. It is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000. In addition to the flag, the carvings include a Royal Navy warship, an American artillery emplacement, houses and shops, windmills, weather vanes, churches, and extensive floral embellishment. There’s also a patriotic slogan, “Leet All Our Hearts United Bee in the Defence of Liberty.” Also worked into the powder horn are the dates of the Siege of Boston and the name of the carver, Barnabas Webb, a private in the Continental Army.
As is expected at a Cowan’s American History auction, the Civil War era is well represented. Highlights include a one-of-a-kind original photograph maquette by Mathew Brady, “Union Cavalry Leaders & Raiders,” consisting of 12 CDVs of officers, including George Armstrong Custer. Circa 1864, it should realize $5,000 to $7,000.
A medal for gallantry at the Battle of Gettysburg, awarded to Sgt. Maj. William B. Hincks of the 14th Connecticut Infantry by the people of his hometown of Bucksport, Maine, is expected to bring $5,000 to $7,000. Hincks led a charge at Gettysburg, leapt over a wall, and captured the colors of the 14th Tennessee Infantry. For his action, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The American West plays a significant role in the auction, led by a Wild West Show poster titled The ‘Two Bills and featuring Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill. It is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000. Perhaps the finest Buffalo Bill poster extant, it recalls the days when Gordon W. Lillie (Pawnee Bill) joined Col. W.F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) in 1908, a partnership that lasted five years. Only a few copies of the poster are known, and its size and style suggest it may have been made for a 1910 motion picture.
An imperial-size cabinet photograph of the Scouts of the Plains – Western legends Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro and Buffalo Bill Cody — taken in New York City circa 1873, with the original inscribed mat, is expected to sell for $8,000 to $12,000. The trio had a short-lived partnership in a stage production. Hickok’s erratic stage behavior (he had a penchant for drinking and firing live ammunition during performances) and general dislike of acting resulted in his leaving the tour after a few months. Omohundro parted ways with Cody in 1877 to establish an acting troupe with his wife, an Italian ballerina. Cody formed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883 and became one of the most famous showmen in the world for the next 30 years.
America’s pastime is covered through a number of items. A Boston Sunday Post from July 12, 1914, giving an account of Babe Ruth’s debut in the major league baseball, is expected to bring $1,500 to $2,500. Exceedingly rare, the newspaper announces Ruth’s acquisition from the minor league Baltimore Orioles and details his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox. The issue has the first known photograph of the legendary slugger to appear in any newspaper.
An early score book owned and used by professional baseball pioneer Harry Wright, is a unique highlight. Harry Wright’s Pocket Base Ball Score Book, No. 2, has an 1875 copyright. The score book is inscribed on title page, annotated “No. 5/ Aug. 26-Sept. 30/ 1881 Boston, Mass.” The 1881 season was Wright’s last as manager of the Boston franchise, then known as the Red Caps, and later the Boston Beaneaters, Boston Braves, Milwaukee Braves, and today the Atlanta Braves, and this is his personal scoring of the team’s games from Aug. 26 to Sept. 30, 1881, the fifth of five score books of the season, and so includes the final games he managed the team. Wright is recognized as the “Father of Professional Baseball” for assembling the 1869 Cincinnati Reds, the first fully professional team.
From the world of entertainment, a salesman’s sample book that includes the famed 1952 calendar image of Marilyn Monroe in the nude is estimated at $2,000 to $4,000. In 1949 Monroe, who was unknown and nearly broke, was paid $50 to sit for a series of nude photographs on red velvet. One of the images by photographer Tom Kelley became the iconic “Golden Dreams” and was first released as a calendar in 1952. From that initial year of release, this sample book is the only example known in that format.
The variety of material in the sale continues with topics as diverse as business, the two World Wars and transportation. “The offerings provide a remarkable synopsis of our nation’s history and beyond,” said Horstman.
Adding to the intrigue is the price range represented by material selected from the archive. Over a period of more than 40 years, Caren put together a collection based on interest and rarity, not just monetary value. “He loves everything, whether it’s a six-figure copy of the Declaration of Independence or a $50 imprint,” Horstman added.
The sale will be held at 10 a.m. Eastern time Friday, Sept. 8.
For more information, phone Katie Horstman at Cowan’s Auctions at 513-871-1670, ext. 236.