The far-reaching and fascinating legacy of George Washington dominated Heritage Auctions’ $1,728,871 Grand Format Americana & Political Memorabilia Auction, May 21, as a 1796 Washington-signed U.S. Patent, issued to Hodgen Holmes for an improvement on Eli Whitney’s cotton gin – effectively extending the life of slavery in the states another 65 years – brought $179,250. All prices include 19.5% Buyer’s Premium.
“The issue of slavery divided and dominated American politics for the first 75 years of American history,” said Tom Slater, Director of History at Heritage. “Had Washington not issued this very patent, making cotton infinitely easier to gin and equally profitable, American history well could have been much different and hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved. It’s a fascinating and important little piece of history, and it brought a price in accordance with its gravitas.”
The $1,728,871 total in the May 21 Heritage event translates into the highest total ever realized in one of the company’s Americana & Political auctions. As 777 bidders vied for 667 lots, translating to a 95% sell-through rate by total lot value.
“The results across the board show that the hunger is there for prime historical memorabilia,” said Slater, “especially as it pertains to early American political history, western expansion and the Civil War. There was a tremendous gathering of quality material in this auction and collectors responded with open enthusiasm.”
The auction largely belonged to Washington, with America’s enigmatic and important founding father featured in fully five of the auction’s top 10 lots. Much of the pre-auction attention, due in part to international media attention generated by stories in the New York Times, Associated Press and Dallas Morning News, was focused on an amazing grouping of artifacts personally relating to George Washington, and consigned to auction by descendants of his brother, John Augustine (Washington himself had no direct descendants) which brought more than $167,000 altogether.
The top lot of the grouping was Washington’s personally owned and used compass, estimated at $40,000+, which realized $59,750 and his Gunter’s Scale – a predecessor to the modern slide rule –estimated at $30,000+, which brought $41,825. These rare and important items were utilized by Washington when he was a young surveyor in Virginia.
Besides the surveying tools consigned by the Washington family, an important archive consisting of hundreds of Washington family papers dating from 1662 through 1835 brought $50,788, while several pieces of Washington’s original coffin, including a handle from the coffin, brought more than $12,000 total.
Washington’s dominance of the auction’s top tier is completed with a Washington autographed document, signed “G Washington,” with a William Fairfax autograph letter signed and addressed to Washington, which realized $101,575.
Other highlights of the auction include, but are certainly not limited to:
Magnificent Half Plate Daguerreotype Gold Mining Scene by Robert Vance C. 1850: Previously unknown/unpublished and offered for the first time. Realized: $83,650.
John Wilkes Booth Abraham Lincoln Assassination Broadside: For those interested in our 16th President, a “Booth Reward Broadside” constitutes a Holy Grail, a key relic of the Civil War and the “final chapter” in the saga of Abraham Lincoln. Realized: $47,800.
Carson City, Nevada Stage Coach Broadside Circa 1872: This very rare 11″ x 14″ broadside announces service to “Lake Tahoe, The Gem of the Sierra.” Realized: $38,838.
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody: A rare and important signed autograph book from the legendary play “Scouts Of The Plains.” One of the most remarkable Western autograph items Heritage has ever presented. Realized: $35,850.
Very rare cabinet photo of Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary, with Letter of Transmittal from the Wyoming photographer: The rare image seen in the cabinet photo offered here was taken by Baker and Johnston Photographers in Evanston and Rook Springs, Wyoming, and shows Calamity Jane in her most outlandish male get-up, six-gun on her hip. Realized: $26,290.
A very rare cabinet photo of James B. “Wild Bill” Hickok in superb condition: All original photographic images of Hickok are considered rare. This beauty was taken by Rockwood Studios on Broadway in New York City, presumably in 1873 when Hickok starred, along with “Buffalo Bill” Cody, in the legendary play “Scouts of the Plains.” Realized: $17,925.