Appraisal Video: (4:44)
C. Wesley Cowan
Arms & Militaria, Books & Manuscripts, Decorative Arts, Folk Art, Photographs
Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
GUEST: The album comes from my grandmother's basement. When my father wanted to clean out his mother's house, he sent me to clean out the basement. The basement is in Annisquam, Massachusetts, which is on the North Shore of Boston, basically. And there were lots of carte de visite books, and I love photographs-- I photograph for a living and I teach it-- so I just put them all in my box in my bag in my car and brought them back to my apartment in Boston. A few weeks later, I opened them all up because I worked at the Children's Museum at the time at the American exhibit and there were millions of these things with millions of faces, you know, people in them. I opened this one one day and I was struck by what I found inside.
APPRAISER: So let's see what is inside.
GUEST: Yeah, you'll be surprised what's inside.
APPRAISER: So this is a typical photograph album from the 1860s. Photograph album. And you open the first page. And they all look like that at the beginning. And here's an index of portraits, and there's... oh, President Lincoln.
GUEST: Oh, who's he?
APPRAISER: Then you open the first page, and voila.
GUEST: And voila.
APPRAISER: There's Abraham Lincoln, autographed by Abraham Lincoln. And who's this guy?
GUEST: Vice president. That's Hannibal Hamlin, his first vice president.
APPRAISER: We turn the page and we see all of the members of Lincoln's cabinet.
GUEST: Cabinet, yup.
APPRAISER: Schuylar Colfax, William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury from Ohio, Edwin Stanton, all of his cabinet members. And then we keep turning the page, and then here are the senators from Maine, the senators from Vermont, all through the states, and they're all autographed. Every one of them. When you opened this up and you started going through it, what were your thoughts?
GUEST: My thoughts were, "Wow, I can't believe what I'm seeing," and then I closed the book back up and I put it away. This was probably 30, 35 years ago. And then I went to graduate school and I brought it to one of my professors, and he's very knowledgeable. He opened it up and he gave me a look like, "What are you doing with this?" And he was a big Abraham Lincoln fan and he said, "You don't need to work." (laughing) He said "You don't need to work" after he looked at the album?
APPRAISER: But he didn't tell you what it's worth?
GUEST: No, he didn't have any idea.
APPRAISER: For the past 35 years, you've had this but never been curious about what could this be worth?
GUEST: After all, "I had a professor when I was in graduate school who said," you know, basically, "Don't go to graduate school, you can stop working." I knew that it was worth some money, but I think I just didn't really want to know. I loved the object itself so much and I just loved that Abraham Lincoln was in my house.
APPRAISER: Abraham Lincoln has always been collectible, his autograph has always been collectible. He signed very, very few photographs. They come up for sale every once in a while, a signed Abraham Lincoln carte de visite. They're very rare. I'll tell you that most of the value in this album is in the first few pages. Autograph collectors don't value U.S. senators' autographs. And even though it's an autographed photograph, which collectors want more than anything, the senators' photographs are worth a couple hundred dollars apiece, unless they were really prominent senators. But then you start getting up into the cabinet, then the values start to climb. And then you get to Abraham Lincoln's signature, which is at the top of the heap. If I were to tell you that this album at auction would easily bring between $75,000 and $100,000, would that surprise you?
GUEST: Uh-huh. Very much. I don't think that there is any question that the album is worth between $75,000 and $100,000 at auction.
APPRAISER: I have never in my 20-plus years of doing this seen an album where every person in the cabinet and the president and all the senators are autographed.
APPRAISER: So it's a really rare thing, and a really very collectible thing. Congratulations.
GUEST: Thanks. That's great.