Seth Kaller, Inc.

Inspired by History

Values That Stand The Test of Time
Public auction results are published, allowing some individual documents to be tracked over time. Using the 2002 auction of the Forbes collection at Christie’s as a starting point, we are able to search for prior sales records on specific documents. Malcolm Forbes collected important content American history—the kind of documents we specialize in, and the kind likely to show up in public records. Since auction results almost always range from high prices to great bargains, we can provide a snapshot of this market by listing every Washington and Lincoln document sold at that Christie’s auction for which we could find earlier sale data.

 

George Washington autograph document signed, April 5, 1750. Land survey, prepared at the age of 18.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 10 $58,750
• Christie’s May 17, 1989 Lot 313 $16,500
• Parke Bernet April 26, 1978 Lot 287 $3,850

George Washington autograph letter signed, June 10, 1752. Lobbying for his first military appointment.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 11 $336,000
• Sotheby’s May 1, 1985 Lot 81 $24,200

George Washington autograph letter signed, May 25, 1778. At Valley Forge, celebrating French alliance, warning “great work” far from finished, expectations of British army movements, lack of help from Congress, and recruitment troubles.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 12 $193,000
• Sotheby’s April 26, 1983 Lot 87 $60,500
• Parke Bernet April 26, 1978 Lot 190 $34,100

George Washington autograph letter signed to Benjamin Franklin, October 18, 1782. Acknowledging America’s obligation to France, condemning George III’s “persevering obstinacy” and “wickedness of his ministry.”
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 13 $138,000
• Sotheby’s October 31, 1985 Lot 204 $47,300

George Washington autograph letter signed, December 4, 1778. Being forced into the presidency would be “Greatest sacrifice of feeling & happiness,” hoping that Congress will not prematurely amend the Constitution [beyond adding the Bill of Rights.]
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 14 $215,000
• Sotheby’s May 23, 1984 Lot 307 $27,500

George Washington autograph manuscript, October 2, 1789. One leaf from undelivered first inaugural address, denying “dynastic ambitions” and desire for power.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 15 $358,000
• Parke Bernet January 30, 1979 Lot 181 $4,400

George Washington letter signed to Samuel Huntington, Gov. of Ct., October 2, 1789. Forwarding proposed Bill of Rights for state ratification.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 16 $248,000
• Parke Bernet January 25, 1977 Lot 223 $4,950

George Washington autograph letter signed, November 20, 1791. Detailed advice to commissioners in charge of building Washington, D.C., on handling L’Enfant.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 17 $138,000
• C. Hamilton September 18, 1969 Lot 358 $14,300

George Washington letter signed, December 13, 1791. Presenting L’Enfant’s plan for capital city to Congress.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 18 $248,000
• Sotheby’s October 26, 1988 Lot 205 $33,000

George Washington autograph letter signed, October 8, 1794. Re: deepening concern over Whiskey Rebellion.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 19 $151,800
• (No previous sale record found, but subsequently re-sold by a dealer, for $250,000.)

Abraham Lincoln autograph letter signed, July 6, 1859. Republican strategy in 1860 election: “To prevent the spread and nationalization of slavery is a national concern.”
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 84 $501,000
• Sotheby’s October 26, 1983 Lot 81 $17,600

Abraham Lincoln autograph letter signed, October 17, 1861. Celebrated response to widow seeking jobs for two of her children: “Set them at it, if possible. Wanting to work is so rare a merit, that it should be encouraged.”
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 87 $666,000
• Sotheby's April 26, 1978 Lot 187 $30,000
• Parke Bernet February 19, 1952 Lot 137 $2,200

Abraham Lincoln document signed, September 24, 1862. Order to Affix the Presidential seal to a Proclamation [Suspending Writ of Habeas Corpus].
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 89 $76,375
• Hindman January 15, 1984 Lot 131 $5,610

Abraham Lincoln manuscript document signed, ca. February 1, 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment - abolishing slavery. Souvenir copy, also signed by many members of the Senate and House.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 95 $721,000
• (Kaller bought a similar document at Sotheby’s, October 30, 1990, Lot 73, for $220,000.)
• Parke Bernet November 28, 1979 Lot 216 $38,500

Abraham Lincoln photograph signed, February 7, 1864. Oval portrait photograph of Lincoln and son Tad, signed “Lincoln and son.”
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 96 $358,000
• Sotheby’s March 27, 1985 Lot 211 $104,500

Abraham Lincoln autograph letter signed to U.S Grant, January 19, 1865. Seeking ‘nominal rank’ for son Robert in the Army of the Potomac: “Please…answer…as though I was not President, but only a friend…”
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 97 $666,000
• Parke Bernet November 8, 1978 Lot 501 $35,200

Abraham Lincoln autograph quotation signed, [ca. March 4, 1865]. Excerpt from his second inaugural speech: “Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the others would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.” In album of Interior Secretary with more signatures.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 99 $446,000
• C. Hamilton April 10, 1980 Lot 126 $14,300

Abraham Lincoln autograph manuscript signed, April 11, 1865. Lincoln’s last public address discussing victory and calling for voting rights for African Americans.
• Christie’s March 27, 2002 Lot 105 $3,086,000
• Doyle May 17, 1982 Lot 2 $231,000

The above examples show that over time historic document prices have risen tremendously. In my opinion, based on their scarcity and importance, documents are still undervalued compared to other collectibles.

One major factor that I believe the market has not yet acknowledged is that a significant number of the most important documents sold over the last 20 years have gone into institutional collections. One can reasonably expect that those documents will never be sold again.

Another is the birth or expansion of history museums that go beyond the libraries of old.

A few examples:

• The National Civil War Museum, Harrisburg, PA opened February 12, 2001;

• The World War II Museum, (also known as the D Day Museum), in New Orleans, founded on June 6, 2000;

• The National Constitution Center, Philadelphia opened July 4, 2003 (they do not plan on collecting, but they have a most impressive display space for documents.);

• The National Underground Railroad Center, which opened in August 23, 2004 to great fanfare;

• Mount Vernon Museum, which has a beautiful new exhibit space for documents that they acquire or borrow for exhibit;

• The National Archives, Washington, D. C., which has recently undergone a major renovation, and taken parts of their collection on tour;

• The National Museum of African American History, as part of the Smithsonian complex on the mall, will be created thanks to a bill passed by Congress unanimously last year. Though it will take more than a decade to build, eventually it will need documents to display.

Of course, there is no guarantee that prices will continue to rise, either for the market as a whole or for individual documents. Also, documents are not necessarily a liquid investment. I recommend buying documents of the highest quality, with the intention of holding for several years.

For more information, please email info@sethkaller.com or call 914.289.1776

Seth Kaller, President

Seth Kaller, Inc.