Abraham Lincoln memorabilia was auctioned off in Dallas, Texas on Saturday with the collection eventually earning more that $800,000. People appear to be captured by the allure of the way certain important historical events unfold and the way they impact modern society. If this were not true, the approximately 177,000 students who earned bachelors in the field of History might actually be as boring as they fear. Even the most avid critics of history, though, cannot deny the intrigue of Abraham Lincoln. Whether it was his beard, his law career, his presidency, or the way he died, this president was a fascinating man.
For Donald P. Dow, the collector who owned the Lincoln memorabilia which was auctioned Saturday for $803,889, it was the way the president died. Dow’s son explained at the event that his father, who passed away himself five years ago, had a particular interest in presidential assassinations, and of course this one was special. Dow was a Dallas Fort Worth Gallery owner who had built the collection over five decades. His draw to the Lincoln memorabilia began in 1963 when he purchased a crate of books that contained some choice pieces, according to his son.
The identities of the buyers at auction were kept secret, so it is not known who has purchased the highly valued historical merchandise. A lock of the president’s hair that was cut by Surgeon General Joseph K Barnes not long after Lincoln was shot sold for $25,000, while a letter written by Lincoln suggesting that the Civil War might have been a bad idea apparently remained unsold. A letter penned by John Wilkes Booth in 1861 to a friend going on at length about how well his acting career was going and how much the theater valued him sold for $30,000. Perhaps this is why he found it necessary to run on stage after shooting Lincoln to yell “Sic semper tyrannis!” What he said is translated from Latin to mean “Thus always to tyrants,” a theatrical gesture if anything.
Other items that were included in the collection were an oil painting that was reportedly done by a carnival sideshow of a mummified man said to belong to Booth and a set of photographs and autographs of Lincoln, Booth and Boston Corbett, the soldier that killed Booth. The painting and set both sold for $30,000. There was an 1864 letter that was written and signed by the president authorizing an exchange of prisoners, one of which was General Lee’s son from a Union POW camp during the Civil War. That item went for $27,000.
There was also an arrest warrant for Booth that fetched $21,250, two eye-witness accounts of the assassination that went for $27,500 and $14,375, a letter from Mary Todd Lincoln following her husband’s death written on her mourning stationery that went for $10,625, a White House Funeral Admittance Card that sold for $11,875, as well as a piece of the linen from the president’s death bed that was stained with his blood that auctioned for $6,000.
From Heritage Auction, Don Ackerman explained that the reason items associated with Booth went for so high is that most of his possessions were destroyed in public outrage following Lincoln’s death. This collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia may or may not have been worth the over $800,000 it raised at auction, but at that price it will surely be valued and cherished by its new owners.
By Joel Wickwire