You might recall my post a few weeks back about a letter for auction that was expected to fetch as much as $5 million. Not only did the auction take place last week, but it also set a record.
The winning bidder paid a whopping $3.4 million for the letter, which I'm happy to report, is a new record for any American manuscript!
I admit, I was a bit surprised by the final price. Pleasantly surprised, but suprised nonetheless. It is a charming letter.
I like to watch how various news outlets cover these stories. If we tracked enough newspapers from different sections of the country over a long-enough period, I suspect we could form some interesting observations about how modern Americans view the sixteenth president. We might even extend our research to include foreign newspapers. What an interesting project that would be! If anyone is so inclined, feel free to steal it and fill out an application for graduate school right away.
Anyway, who had the best news coverage of the $3.4 million Lincoln auction?
The major news agencies reported the story. The Associated Press offered a fairly straightforward account. The lead stressed Lincoln's name, the phrase "little slave children," and the record-setting price:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Abraham Lincoln's heartfelt reply to a group of youngsters who asked him to free America's "little slave children" has sold for $3.4 million.
Sotheby's auction house said Thursday that the 1864 letter set a record for a Lincoln manuscript, as well as for any presidential and American manuscript.
It was purchased by an American private collector bidding over the telephone.
Lincoln's hand-penned reply is contained in a letter to a woman who mailed the children's petition from Concord, Massachusetts.
In it, Lincoln says: "Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy."
Several newspapers picked up the concise AP story, among them:
Contrast the AP's story with a more substantive story by UPI:
NEW YORK, April 4 (UPI) -- A letter written in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, has been sold at an auction in New York for $3.4 million.
NY1 said the letter was a reply to a group of young students who pleaded with him to free the country's "little slave children." An unidentified private collector bought it Thursday.
The year of the letter is significant because it was the one in which Lincoln later signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed millions of slaves.
Sotheby's auction house in New York said the amount was the most ever paid for a U.S. manuscript, the Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register reported.
"We believe this to be an auction record not only for Lincoln, but for any presidential manuscript -- indeed for any historical American manuscript," said Selby Kiffer, senior vice president of Sotheby's books and manuscripts department.
"The previous record-holder, to my knowledge, was an 1865 manuscript of a Lincoln speech sold in the Forbes sale by Christie's in March 2002 for a hammer price of $2,800,000 -- or $3,086,000 with the buyer's premium included," Kiffer said. "I don't apologize for this price. This is the best Lincoln document available for purchase in many, many years."
However, of all the major news agencies, I have to give the nod to Reuters. Consider their coverage:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A stirring 1864 anti-slavery letter from Abraham Lincoln was auctioned for a record $3.4 million on Thursday, Sotheby's auction house said, setting a new record for the 16th U.S. president.
Lincoln's hand-written reply to a petition by children to free "all the little slave children in this country" surpassed the previous record for a Lincoln manuscript -- the $3.1 million for a document sold by Christie's in March 2002.
It was purchased by an American collector bidding by telephone, Sotheby's said.
"Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not that power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it," Lincoln wrote in the letter.
Sotheby's called the letter "arguably Lincoln's most personal and powerful statement on God, slavery and emancipation."
He was responding to a petition signed by 195 children.
In 1862 and 1863, Lincoln signed two executive orders known together as the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared free slaves held in some Confederate states. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which formally abolished slavery was ratified in December 1865, eight months after Lincoln's assassination.
The letter was the centerpiece of an auction entitled "Presidential and Other American Manuscripts from the Dr. Robert Small Trust."
Several media outlets picked up the Reuters story, among them:
Other news outlets prepared original articles, but in nearly every case, they resemble the work of at least one of the three major news agencies:
Honorable mention for the best coverage of this story goes to an original piece, written by, Kate Augusto of the Boston Globe:
Letter from Lincoln fetches $3.4m
By Kate Augusto
April 4, 2008
Abraham Lincoln's addresses are still making history.
A private American collector bought a letter at auction yesterday that Lincoln wrote to some schoolchildren in Concord in 1864. The $3.4 million purchase set a record for an American manuscript, said James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill.
In 1864, the country's 16th president received a petition from 195 schoolchildren from Concord, asking him to "free all the little slave children in this country."
In a handwritten letter to the petition's collector, antislavery advocate Mary Mann, Lincoln wrote, "Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it."
The trust of retired New York physician Richard Small sold the letter dated April 5, 1864, through Sotheby's New York. Small's collection also included a book with Lincoln's autograph on the day of his Gettysburg Address.
Leslie Wilson, curator of special collections at the Concord Library, said the letter's greater significance is its illustration of antislavery sentiment in Concord. "There's always a great tendency to put a lot of emotional importance into something like this . . . but there was a bigger story: the organized antislavery movement. And Concord was only a part of that," she said.
But, without a doubt, the best coverage of the $3.4 million Lincoln auction goes to...
Lincoln's hometown newspaper, Springfield's State Journal-Register. Pete Sherman not only recapped the details of the story, but he interviewed the person in charge of the auction at Sotheby's, Selby Kiffer. More importantly, at least in my view, Sherman spoke with a Lincoln studies expert, Kim Bauer. Bauer is currently the director of Decatur's Lincoln Heritage Project, but before that, he was the curator of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. I can't think of too many people who could do a better job of putting a Lincoln document into perspective.
Lincoln Letter Fetches $3.4 Million
Amount sets record; some local scholars doubted it would sell for that much
By PETE SHERMAN
Friday, April 04, 2008
Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 letter to Horace Mann’s widow, responding to her students’ request that he free slave children, was sold by Sotheby’s auction house in New York Thursday for $3,401,000, the most ever paid for an American manuscript, according to the auction house.
We believe this to be an auction record not only for Lincoln, but for any presidential manuscript — indeed for any historical American manuscript,” said Selby Kiffer, senior vice president of Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department and the person in charge of the auction Thursday.
The identity of the buyer, who was bidding over the phone, has not been revealed. Kiffer said even he doesn’t know the buyer’s name.
However, Kiffer said, the Lincoln-Mann manuscript was purchased by a collector, not an investor.
“This is someone who fell in love with the letter,” Kiffer said.
“The previous record-holder, to my knowledge, was an 1865 manuscript of a Lincoln speech sold in the Forbes sale by Christie’s in March 2002 for a hammer price of $2,800,000 — or $3,086,000 with the buyer’s premium included,” Kiffer said.
“I don’t apologize for this price. This is best Lincoln document available for purchase in many, many years.”
According to Sotheby’s Web site, a commission of 12 percent is charged for purchases exceeding $500,000. That puts the hammer price (the winning bid) for the Lincoln-Mann letter at about $3 million.
Some Lincoln scholars in Springfield suspected the 1864 letter to Mary Tyler Peabody Mann would not fetch anywhere near the $3 million to $5 million the auction house was expecting.
But another local historian said never underestimate Sotheby’s.
“Sotheby’s is very good at this,” said Kim Bauer, director of the Lincoln Heritage Project in Decatur and the former curator of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
“Getting the word out, fanning interest. The psychology of auctions is always the same, whether it’s a farm auction in Girard or at the highest end. As an auction house, you push, you push and push and you get people interested and inflamed, and they have to have that piece. The only thing that’s different is the price tag.”
Kiffer said the last time a copy of the Gettysburg Address was sold was in 1962 — for $54,000. If one went up for sale today, he estimated it would go for $25 million to $50 million. At another Sotheby’s auction last year, Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein bought a copy of the Magna Carta for more than $21 million.
Lincoln’s letter was among 111 items Sotheby’s was selling Thursday as part of a collection of historic documents owned by the Dr. Small Trust. The collection included roughly 20 other Lincoln documents, one of which included the only known signature of Lincoln’s at Gettysburg. That was the second-highest sale, going for $937,000, including the commission.
Sotheby’s sold approximately 70 of the 111 items for a total of $5,649,326.
Kiffer said he thought the best value was the $937,000 paid for the Lincoln signature.
Bauer thought the best bang for the buck was the $25,000 paid for an 1862 letter by former President Millard Fillmore in which he called Lincoln a “tyrant.”
“The much more interesting letter was Fillmore’s,” Bauer said. “(The buyer) got a very good deal. Maybe the steal of the auction.”