by Brooke Kennedy
Since our inception in 1976, RR Auction’s reputation has been built on rare autographs and manuscripts. For over 40 years they have been the foundation of the company’s work in the auction industry, but as time has gone on we have successfully expanded into new markets – including rare books.
Represented in our 2023 Remarkable Rarities auction were three books formerly held by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. The institution’s main mission is to promote the education of American history, but they are also home to more than 85,000 artifacts covering 500 years of historical events.
Each lot previously held by the prestigious institution exceeded its given estimate – breaking records held by auction giants. Prior to our premiere yearly live Rarities auction, scarce original signed editions of Lincoln books had been offered at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and other auction houses. But, RR Auction’s sale marks the first time in thirteen years that a copy of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates has been to auction.
The last time a copy went to auction was back in 2010, when Christie’s sold one with a pencil inscription to [Joseph] Jackson Grimshaw. Beyond that, RR Auction’s sale broke the record for the highest selling copy of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates ever with a price of $593,750, overtaking the original record held by Sotheby’s by over $300,000.
After its 1860 publication, Lincoln received 100 hundred copies to distribute to friends and supporters. According to a 1954 census carried out by Harry E. Pratt – “Lincoln Autographed Debates” – eighteen of these distributed copies have been located, with a handful of other ones going to market since (including RR’s example). When signing his copies, Lincoln noticed that, when written in ink, his signature had a tendency to blur on the thin paper. He later switched to signing each book in pencil, making RR Auction’s copy one of the earliest he signed and one of only four known examples with his ink signature.
Like the original Lincoln books, copies of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia have been offered by Christie’s and Sotheby’s over the course of several years. These international auction houses dominated the list of top 10 selling Jefferson books – until RR Auction recently earned a spot. Edmund Randolph’s signed and annotated copy earned a realized price of $275,000, making it the sixth highest selling copy. Rarities 2023 was the first time this particular copy went under the hammer in 57 years.
In addition to these stellar results, we oversaw the sale of a first edition collection written by our second president, John Adams. Though not a complete set, the first two (of three) volumes of Adams’s Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America were sold for double their estimate at $81,250. Members of the Constitutional Convention would look to this book as the Constitution was being drafted in May 1787, showcasing Adams’s early influence on the foundations of the U. S. government. From the hands of our country’s former leaders through the auction house doors, RR will continue to write new chapters for these scarce books.
“RR Auction has quickly become a trustworthy source to represent precious books from institutions like Gilder Lehrman, and our database of tens of thousands of buyers are willing and ready to pay those record-breaking prices,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction. “We feel honored to help aid in the preservation of these historic works.”
RR continues to grow year after year, with this Rarities auction being our most successful one yet – earning $4,059,063 in total sales. Head to our Rarities recap to see more remarkably high selling lots and check out our previous auction overviews.
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