1881 James A. Garfield Presidential Document
My grandfather made his living making and selling drapes and wall hangings. And there was a customer that couldn't pay him, so he ended up paying him in these historical documents. Signed by... There were multiple presidents, a couple appointments, a bill of sale for a slave.
Right. And I singled out this particular document. Do you have any idea why that might be?
I have no clue. This is not the one that I would've chosen.
Well, it doesn't look like much. I mean, it's an attractive document. You have the name of the president up at the top, James A. Garfield, a nice American eagle, very decorative, "President of the United States of America" in large letters. Down here you have the seal of the Post Office Department. And over here you have the signature "James A. Garfield." It's an appointment of someone named Dowd, whose name appears here, to be a postmaster in Indiana. So, it's a rather routine presidential document on the face of it. If you know much about James Garfield, though, there's some interesting wrinkles to this document. Garfield was the 20th president, and he was sworn in the fourth of March, 1881. He has a tragic distinction: He was the second president assassinated in office. He was shot on July 2, so only four months in office as an active president, signing documents, doing business. For that reason, his appointments like this are unusually rare. And this one's in particularly nice shape. You know, the original silk ribbon is still attached... the gold seal. It's a paper gold, not real gold.
And a great big bold signature, "James A. Garfield." You know, this was a man in his prime, Civil War veteran, served in Congress for a long time, active Republican. And because Garfield signed so few things in office, this is worth at least $10,000.
Yeah-- not a bad piece, huh?
Not at all.
Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.
Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."
Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.
Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.
Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.
Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.
Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.