One lot tells the story
An exceptionally important American newspaper
By Bruce McKinney
Copies of the United States Constitution printed in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1787, have been raising eyebrows for most of the 20th century. On November 19th at Freeman they also raised the record for a copy sold at auction running well beyond Freeman's $80,000 to $120,000 estimate to reach $180,000 hammer and $207,225 all in. This item has not always done so well.
In the spring of 1976 Sotheby's sold a copy for $2,000 to John Jenkins, the Texas dealer, who made it an important item in his 1976 Bi-centennial Catalogue and priced it at $85,000. It was eventually sold for something close to the asking price. The catch was that payment was in 85 monthly installments without interest. In time the deal washed out and Jenkins re-sold this copy for less. In 1983 Sotheby's auctioned another copy: this one for $24,000 and in 1987 another copy: this one for $100,000. In 1988 a bound volume of this newspaper including this issue and 307 others, trimmed and with repairs, brought $60,000, a bargain given all the additional material included.
In 1998 Christies sold a trimmed single issue with condition problems for $70,000 and in 2001 the 1988 bound volume returned to the rooms [Sotheby's] to be re-priced at $130,000. There it stood until November 19th last where, as the center piece of Freeman's four day Bi-centennial Celebration sale, it moved the chains well beyond Freeman's estimate and the existing auction record to settle at $207,225 with hammer, a new auction record by $70,000. It was purchased by the 19th Century Shop of Baltimore for stock. Tom Edsall, speaking for the firm about this purchase said, "this is the only unbound, untrimmed copy we have ever encountered and it was a bargain at the price."
Prior copies in the second half of the 20th century have been exclusively the domain of Sotheby's and Christies. This sale suggests buyers are increasingly aware of and prepared to place their bids where the material is offered even if the auction venue is beyond the zip codes that begin with 100. The world grows more open and international by the month if not the day. For consignor, Freeman's and the buyer this was a very successful effort.
This was not the only item of interest of course, only the most important.
One lot tells the story
Certificate signed by Rush: $6,500
Lot 1, "Biblia, Das ist: Die Heilige Schrift Altes und Neues Testaments" printed in Germantown by Sauer brought $2,800 plus hammer against an estimate of $1,500 to $2,500.
Lot 2, a sammelbend of 18th century publications on American Indians relating to or published in Pennsylvania brought $20,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000. Such items are among the most interesting books available today and often fail to realize their full value. This one did and it is, for its buyer, a prize.
Lot 3, Franklin's "Some Account of the Pennsylvania Hospital" printed by Franklin and Hall in 1754 brought $8,500 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000.
Lot 4, the "Postscript to the Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 2373" including the British Crown's response to the Boston Tea Party, two coercive bills intended to punish the colonists. Estimated at $2,500 to $3,500 this lot went on the low side at $2,100.
Lot 67, a document signed by Benjamin Franklin in 1788 brought $6,000 against the estimate of $2,500 to $3,500.
Lot 78, the only surviving original survey of Pittsburgh brought $60,000 against an estimate of $50,000 to $90,000.
David Bloom of Freeman's, in discussing the sale postprandial, pointed to the Rush letters and documents [lots 71-74] as being particularly interesting. Several of these lots were purchased by a Penn alumnus as a gift to the school.
Some of the items we didn't write about were relative bargains.
Lot 7, a single volume of The American Museum or Universal Magazine: vol. 8, July - December, 1790 was an absolute bargain at $500. These early magazines tell an unduplicated story of emerging American life. Volumes tend to come up one or two at a time and to sell for modest prices. Give yourself five years to find all the volumes. Complete sets will command large premiums.
Lot 39, a group of Philadelphia medical imprints was also a nice buy even though it went for $1,700 against an estimate of $250 to $400. Philadelphia was the center of American medicine two hundred years ago.
Lot 59, a Franklin broadside [1796?] "Bowles's Moral Pictures, Poor Richard Illustrated" was a bargain at $1,800 against a high estimate of $1,200. Material that illustrates a collection commands a premium and is worth every penny.
Over the four days the aggregate winning bid including premium was $4.74 million. Eighty-four percent of all lots sold. For Freeman it was a nice way to start the next century and for the dealers and collectors bidding an opportunity to obtain some choice material.
To see all of the results from the Freeman auction, Click here.