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On April 16, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama, after leading peaceful demonstrations against racial segregation. As a flurry of correspondence arrived to the jail for King, he signed for each piece of mail in a logbook that has now fetched $130,000 at Hake’s Auctions in Pennsylvania.
The ledger, which includes entries from March 4 through November 27, 1963, dates to the period when King wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” a manifesto on nonviolent resistance and one of the most important written records of the Civil Rights era. There are 12 signatures by King in the logbook in total.
The documents were consigned by an anonymous woman with the help of WorthPoint, a firm specializing in researching and appraising antiques and vintage collectibles, and a team of signature experts. Hake’s then had the lot authenticated by James Spence Authentication in New Jersey.
According to a catalogue essay, a Birmingham jail employee had been asked to discard the documents, but instead held on to them and passed them on to the consigning family. Prior to Hake’s sale, they had not been displayed publicly.
Twenty-eight bidders competed for the lot, which sold for 10 times its minimum bid of $10,000. The buyer has not been identified.
“As pleased as we are with the result, a world auction record for an MLK signature, it is even more pleasing to see the deep level of appreciation extended by the dozen bidders and countless individuals who reacted to this offering,” Scott Mussell, Americana Specialist at Hake’s, told Hyperallergic.
He also emphasized the rarity of surviving artifacts dating from or related to King’s incarceration, describing the lot as “the penultimate piece for collectors and institutions seeking tangible material from these history-altering days.”
“The result is indicative of the importance of not just Martin Luther King but the struggle for Civil Rights and how it shaped and continues to shape our shared history,” Mussell added.