In 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order that freed slaves in the non-Union states—and he signed 48 copies. The original version of the Emancipation Proclamation is in the National Archives, but several copies are privately owned. One of those will be put up for sale at the Robert Siegel Auction Galleries on June 26 and is expected to fetch between $1.8 million and $2.5 million. Bloomberg Businessweek spoke with Seth Kaller, the historian who authenticated and appraised the document and has agreed to sell it for the owner. Kaller explained the origins of the document, which U.S. presidents bring in the most money at auction, and why historical papers are so much cheaper than works of art.
Wait, so Lincoln signed 48 copies of the Emancipation Proclamation? Why’d he bother to do that?
One of the ways that the Northern public supported the troops during the Civil War was through an organization called the Sanitary Commission. They helped makes soldiers’ conditions in the camps better by improving administering medicine, providing items for personal comfort, and supplying pens and paper so they could write home. Think of it as something similar to the Red Cross and USO put together.
To raise money for all of this, the Sanitary Commission held what were called Sanitary Fairs. They sold artwork, autographs—anything of value that people donated to them. Lincoln was very popular in the North, at least, so some abolitionists asked him to sign a number of copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, which they sold for $10 a piece. There were 48 originally but only 26 remain now.
Who has them?
Eighteen are in museums or libraries. One of those is on loan right now to the White House. Eight are in private hands. But several of those are slated to go to museums in the coming years. I sold three of them in the $1 million-plus range a few years ago. The most interesting one has been the one that went for $3.77 million at Sotheby’s BID in 2010. It was the same as the others but it had the added bonus that in 1964 or ’65, when Bobby Kennedy was involved in the civil rights movement, he bought the copy.
Strange Random History Quote:
History has to be rewritten because history is the selection of those threads of causes or antecedents that we are interested in. – O. W. Holmes, Jr.
- Roads to close for Emancipation Day (myfoxdc.com)
- Juneteenth Celebration will be June 16 (independentmail.com)
- The emancipation proclamation was a diplomacy play (sebastianmarshall.com)
- President Lincoln Repudiates General Hunter’s Emancipation Proclamation (abrahamlincolnandthecivilwar.wordpress.com)
- Juneteenth Celebration Kicks Off in Fort Smith (5newsonline.com)
- Fall of New Orleans beachhead for emancipation (miamiherald.com)
- The Civil War Border States and the Purple States of 2012 (themoderatevoice.com)