by Brooke Kennedy
Just in time for President’s Day, RR Auction had a successful auction night with overall auction prices realized being over $1,000,000 in sales for RR Auction. The Presidents and First Ladies category alone, offering 150+ autographs and artifacts from the lives of America’s leaders, accrued over $200,000 in bids. With autograph items stretching from George Washington’s term all the way up to Joe Biden’s, our February 8th auction boasted a wide variety of highly sought after pieces of memorabilia from historic moments in political history.
Our highest selling item, a handwritten letter from Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren about the Battles of Lexington and Concord, sold for $106,998, setting a new world record auction price for an Abigail Adams letter. One of her letters written to her niece Lucy Greenleaf sold at an auction in 2003 for $23,900, and another one of her letters sold for $35,500 in 2016. In this handwritten letter, Abigail Adams writes, “I have determined to stay as long as it will be safe for any person to tarry upon the sea coast. I am much distressed for our poor Boston Friends. ” Adams’ letter is a powerful look at her mindset at the time of the Revolutionary War, as it conveys a sense of duty to her family and friends as well as the country where these battles are taking place. This autograph letter has been referenced in works about Mrs. Adams as well as historical accounts of the American Revolution as a whole, a testament to the importance of its contents and what we can learn about Abigail and the surrounding social climate she lived in. In Edith B. Gelles’ book, Abigail Adams: A Writing Life, Gelles affirms this in her introduction stating that, “her collected letters are the best account that exists from the pre- to the post-Revolutionary period in America of a woman’s life and world.”
Mary Todd Lincoln
Among other items that achieved a high selling price is an autograph letter signed by Mary Todd Lincoln. This letter discusses the grief and confusion Mary Lincoln is still dealing with after the tragic assassination of her husband Abraham Lincoln and this handwritten letter sold for $50,000. Mary Lincoln’s historic letter contains some striking accusations against Vice President Andrew Johnson and his possible connection to President Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. Mary Todd Lincoln writes, “My own intense misery, has been augmented, by the same thought—that, that miserable inebriate Johnson, had cognizance, of my husband’s death—Why, was that card, of Booth’s found, in his box, some acquaintance certainly existed.” Mary Todd Lincoln wrote this letter after the assassination, at the time trying to make sense of what had happened to her husband. Mrs. Lincoln makes reference to a card John Wilkes Booth left in the mailbox of Andrew Johnson’s private secretary named William A. Browning at the Kirkwood House in Washington DC. It is thought by historians that this note was left by Booth to either find out Johnson’s location and make the Vice President a target in an assassination conspiracy or to possibly implicate him as a conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination. Mary Todd believed that this card was evidence of a connection between Booth and Johnson, leading her to assume this was evidence of a conspiracy present in the highest level of government.
RR Auction is excited to see that the highest selling items belonged to famous first ladies as their role in history is often ignored in discussions about our country’s history. Many have learned about President John Adams and Abraham Lincoln from a young age, but have heard very little about the lives of the first ladies and their contributions to the country they served. Both letters reveal some incredibly detailed pieces of information about the first ladies in different situations of strife. Mrs. Adams was in distress about the Battles of Lexington and Concord even chastising Britain in her letter, “O Britain, Britain how is thy glory vanished—how are thy Annals stained with the blood of thy children.” Despite the danger of the battles happening close to her home, Abigail intended to stay as long as it was safe for her to do so. Her display of resolve and support of her country and its people was thoroughly shone in this letter that has been saved and preserved for many years to come. Mrs. Lincoln, however, experienced a different form of personal struggle when it came to processing the death of her husband. Her letter questions the placement of Booth’s card in Andrew Johnson’s possession, showcasing a possible want of answers as to why Booth assassinated Lincoln. Seeing these pieces sell for high prices for our consignors and also break a world record in the case of Abigail Adams’ letter was wonderful to witness.
Not only did Abigail Adams’ letter break a world record for our consignor, but it was also the Presidential artifact with the highest selling price for RR Auction’s most recent autograph auction. While these two artifacts were the highest selling items for our February 8th auction, we also successfully sold a check signed by Abraham Lincoln to his personal valet William Johnson for $36,603, Lincoln’s carpet bag he gifted to a union soldier for $17,840, and a rare admission pass to Lincoln’s White House Funeral for $14,196. RR Auction prides themselves on consigning and auctioning off rare historical pieces to passionate collectors. If you are interested in consigning any pieces you own you can contact RR Auction via telephone at 800-937-3880. You can also find us on social media @rrauction on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok to stay updated on upcoming auctions and other pieces that have been consigned to us. If you have any Presidential memorabilia of your own that you’d like to consign, we are open to partner with you.
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