These Iconic American Documents Are Up for Sale
Can you put a price on history? Sotheby’s is going to try.
Later this month, the auction house will sell editions of the most important documents from America’s past, and they’re expected to fetch millions.
A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment are among the most eye-catching items in Sotheby’s (BID) “Two Centuries of American History” auction that’s set for May 25.
The original Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, liberated 4 million slaves as the U.S. entered its third year of bloody civil war. The version that’s up for sale was signed by Lincoln in 1864 and then sold to benefit the Sanitary Commission, which provided assistance to Union soldiers and their families. Lincoln originally signed 48 documents for that purpose; just 27 have survived to this day. Sotheby’s expects the document to sell for between $1.5 million -$2 million.
The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in the U.S. The edition that Sotheby’s is auctioning off is “extremely rare”—one of three “Senate copies” that Lincoln signed. Sotheby’s has priced it between $2 million and $3 million.
While the totals the documents are expected to fetch are eye-popping, they pale in comparison to the astronomical sums recent auction items—namely gems—have sold for. Earlier this week, a 15.38-carat pear-shaped pink diamond sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva for $31.6 million—making it the most expensive fancy vivid pink diamond ever sold at auction. Christie’s, meanwhile, sold a 14.6-carat blue diamond on Wednesday for $57.6 million, hands-down the most a jewel has ever gone for at auction.
Sotheby’s Two Centuries of American History auction, of which the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment are a part, features 92 other lots, such as first printings of The Star Spangled Banner and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, as well as documents signed by founding fathers and American presidents, including Secretary of the Treasury turned modern-day pop icon Alexander Hamilton.