Hundreds of items of presidential memorabilia, including a ticket to Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, a collegiate cardigan formerly owned by John F. Kennedy, and the pen with which Warren G. Harding signed the World War I Peace Resolution, are on offer at Boston’s RR Auction. The online sale features 285 lots, including documents, photographs, and ephemera of all stripes linked to presidents from George Washington to Joe Biden.
Items belonging to Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt tend to be the most desirable among collectors of presidential artifacts; of the more modern presidents, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan may have the most avid collecting bases.
A leading lot in the sale, estimated at upwards of $75,000, is a large albumen portrait of Abraham Lincoln with his young son Tad, who died at the age of 18. The popular and widely reproduced photograph was taken by Anthony Berger at Matthew Brady’s photo studio in 1864. Over a century later in 1984, the US Postal Service somewhat misleadingly featured the image on a stamp captioned “A Nation of Readers”; though Lincoln and his son might appear to be reading a book together in the image — and in some doctored versions, are reading a Bible — they were, in fact, looking at a photo album.
The other leading lot, also estimated at $75,000, is a shadowbox display containing engraved images of George and Martha Washington, along with clippings of their hair. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common to gift locks of hair to loved ones as keepsakes; often, the hair would be worn in a locket. The locks of hair — Martha’s are more ample — are contained within two ornamental bezels, separated by a gilt American bald eagle bearing a shield with thirteen stars and thirteen stripes, all atop a blue velvet base.
A clipping of Lincoln’s hair tied with a white ribbon is also featured in the sale, priced at a more moderate $20,000. Last year, the auction house sold a lock of Lincoln’s hair cut at his postmortem examination, along with a bloodied telegram about the president’s assassination, for $81,000.
“Some of the most valuable presidential artifacts interestingly are presidential hair,” RR Auction’s vice president Bobby Livingston told WBZ. Avid collectors of presidential hair have been around for some time, as evidenced by a framed display of hair from the first 14 presidents, systematically gathered by Smithsonian curator John Varden in the mid-1800s, in the collection of the National Museum of American History.
For the more sartorially inclined, the auction includes a crimson Harvard sweater that belonged to John F. Kennedy, with “Kennedy” embroidered into a label in the collar with red thread. Herman Lang, a camera operator for CBS, was filming an interview outside with Jacqueline Kennedy in 1964 when he mentioned that he was catching a cold. A Kennedy staff member proceeded to lend him the late president’s sweater. When Lang tried to return it after the shoot, he was told to hold onto it as a memento. The woolen cardigan is valued at upwards of $35,000.
There are several additional Kennedy-related items in the sale, including a brooch that Jacqueline Kennedy gifted her personal secretary for Christmas in 1960, with a note, valued at $3,500; books autographed by John and Jacqueline, each valued at $2,000; and a vintage photograph of John signing the 1961 Space Bill, which, estimated at $100, is among the least expensive items on offer.
In a statement, auction house representative Mike Graff said that “RR Auction’s February presidential sale honors America’s esteemed commanders-in-chief.” He continued: “From the nation’s founding to modern times, these are the leaders who have guided the United States through times of war and peace. Their lives and legacies are embodied in these nearly 300 items.” The sale will run until tomorrow, February 18.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.