Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Auction Report: Copley Sale at Sotheby's

Note: for background on this post, see my preview of the sale, here. Full results are here. This is a pretty raw account (I'm writing it as the auction goes on, but I'll try to add some ruminations at the end).

Prices at the beginning were lower than expected, with the 1812 letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush making $62,500 as the high spot in the first twenty lots (below the estimated price). A 1775 Benedict Arnold letter beat its estimates, making $53,125. A copy of A Short Narrative of The horrid Massacre in Boston (1770) did better than expected, making $11,250. Burgoyne's account of the Battle of Bunker Hill fetched $50,000.

A 1776 George Clymer letter bettered its expected prices by a wide margin, selling for $10,625 (est. $1,500-2,500). A copy of the first edition of the journal of the proceedings of the First Continental Congress (1774) made $27,500, and a set of 13 volumes cf Continental Congress proceedings sold for $32,500. A complete set of The Crisis fetched $20,000, and a Davy Crockett letter made $32,500. Andrew Eliot's eyewitness account of the Battle of Bunker Hill made $62,500; a Continental officer's oath of allegiance better than doubled its esimates, making $33,750. A 1777 Ben Franklin letter sold for $37,500, but the letter pertaining to his Autobiography does not appear to have sold. A 1772 letter from Elbridge Gerry to Sam Adams sold for $25,000, and a 1777 letter to James Warren made $18,750. Gerry's 1787 letter to James Warren outlining objections to the Constitution made $16,250 (about doubling the estimate).

The attractive John Hancock-signed Faneuil Hall lottery ticket sold for $4,688, and a John Hancock letter to Charles Lee made $59,375. Then along came the North Carolina Signers: a 1775 Joseph Hewes letter to Samuel Johnston better than tripled its esimates, selling for $53,125, a February 1776 William Hooper letter more than doubled its projections and made $122,500. That was followed hot on its heels by a second Hooper letter from April 1776, which sold for $206,500 (over high estimates of $50,000).

Jefferson's letter to Richard Price made $56,250 (not hitting the low end of the estimate), but a first edition of the first U.S. census, signed by Jefferson, made $122,500. An 1821 Jefferson letter to a Virginia judge made $56,250, and the wonderful 1825 note to Rufus King about books and instruments for UVA made $43,750.

An 1849 Abraham Lincoln letter sold for $46,875 (just above the low estimate). The Lincoln-signed telegram to McClellan ordering him to move made $482,500 (believe it or not, lower than expected). A book from the library of South Carolina Signer Thomas Lynch fetched $40,625. Cotton Mather's c. 1708 complaint about Harvard students made $12,500, and a document signed by South Carolina Signers Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward beat its estimate more than four times over, reaching $46,875.

Robert Treat Paine's letter to David Cobb informing him of the choice of Washington as commander fetched $40,625 (more than expected), while a whiny Thomas Paine letter to George Clinton (1807) made $56,250 (below the estimate). A payment note signed by Paul Revere made $15,000, and an Edward Rutledge letter continued the Southern Signers Streak, making $23,750 (nearly double the estimate).

The Washington letter to Arnold ordering him to Quebec made $104,500 (just barely over the estimate), and GW's note to Tayloe mentioning the siege of Boston fetched $86,500 (beating the high estimate by a smidge). The very interesting GW letter to Joseph Jones (1781) made $68,500 (within the estimate range), and his 1788 letter to Nathaniel Gorham celebrating the Constitution didn't sell. A 1790 letter to General Anthony Wayne made $98,500.

A 1782 Anthony Wayne letter doubled its estimate, reaching $10,625; another from the same year made $13,750. Aaron Wood's annotated Constution made $53,125.

The total before the Gwinnett document was $3,640,384.

And then came Gwinnett, which made $722,500.

Quite a day for the Southern Signers, that's for sure!