COLLECTING LINCOLN: ESTEEMED DEALER'S INVENTORY SOLD
George W. Bacon's "The Life and Administration of Abraham Lincoln" 1st edn., 1865. Sold for $1,380. Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman
Abraham Lincoln spent one year in school. He taught himself how to read and write and later studied to be a lawyer. As a presidential candidate in 1861 he ran on the platform that division between Northern and Southern states would destroy the Union.
We know how Lincoln’s story ended. Yet, the fascination in our culture with his persona, his political genius, his tragic nobility never seems to ease its grip. Saving the Union, freeing the slaves and martyrdom guaranteed him a spot in history.
I flip through few books, manuscripts or ephemera auction catalogs that don’t list or highlight Lincoln items. Maybe it’s because Lincoln, along with Napoleon is the most written-about political figure in history.
There’s a lot to go around. Leslie Hindman’s Sept. 18 and 19, 1996, auction in Chicago of manuscripts from the inventory of Ralph Geoffrey Newman, Inc. is no exception.
Newman opened his first antiquarian book business in 1936 in Chicago. Some consider him the country’s foremost appraiser of presidential and historic documents.
Newman also founded the Civil War Round Table in 1940. At a ceremony in Washington D.C., several years ago, Dr. David Chambers Means, of the Library of Congress, referred to Newman as an “...acknowledged authority...preceptor of the past for the enlightenment of the future.”
Over 1000 objects ranging from Lincolniana, and the Civil War to first edition books from Newman’s closing shop-inventory went on the block. Lincoln family broadsides, statuary, biographies, engravings, photographs and prints are a few examples of the selection.
“The subject area never wanes,” says Vann Jensen, book and manuscript specialist at Hindman’s. “The Civil War era is held as a wonderful facet of American culture. It’s about people adjusting to the end of a century. Looking back, and holding on.”
Newman’s collection was a culmination of a life’s work. The primo pieces in his collection were withheld so that Newman could sell them at a later date from his home.
“The auction totaled around $100,000,” says Jensen, with a note of disappointment in his voice.
“The strongest interest being in the statuary.” Top seller was a Lincoln bust finished in white plaster. The 32-inch statue by Thomas Dow Jones brought $3,680. Another Lincoln plaster statue, 32 ½ inches high, “The Emancipator” by Leonard Wells Volk sold for $1,955. A rare 1865 book, “The Life and Administration of Abraham Lincoln” by George Washington Bacon, realized $1,380.
Many of the lots in the auction fell below sale estimates, indicating a buyers market. The consignor set the estimates and Jensen suggested they were more reflective of a nostalgic tie to the inventory than actual values in the marketplace.
Inventory from a dealer’s shop sold at auction is always an “iffy” proposition. Buyers look for merchandise that’s fresh to the market. Something they haven’t seen before, something that’s not been shopped around.
Q. Enclosed is a photo of a vase found in an old house sold back in 1952. On the bottom is J.B. Owens, Utopian 1031. I would appreciate any information you might have. Name withheld by request.
A. Your vase was made by J.B. Owens Co. in Zanesville, Ohio. Founded in 1891, the firm specialized in quality art pottery. Utopian was their first line of products on the market, a standard brown ware with an under glaze slip decoration. Most featured animals, portraits and nature studies. Later the company dropped the art pottery and switched to making tiles.
By 1893, 60 workers in the plant generated $100,000 in art pottery a year. Some of the most successful examples of the Utopian line portrayed Indians like your lamp base does.
Owens, Weller and Roseville were the big producers in the Zanesville region and they imitated each other’s most profitable lines.
Much of the Owens pottery is marked. Those pieces bearing no mark are hard to attribute because of the resemblance to other Zanesville companies.
The Owen’s Plant collapsed with the 1929 depression. J. B. Owens retired to Florida where he died in 1934. A good resource book on the subject is Art Pottery of the United States by Paul Evans published by Feingold & Lewis Publishing Corp, New York, N.Y.
Prices vary depending on the quality of the artwork and subject matter. Condition is also a critical factor. Chips and cracks can lower the price by as much as 50 percent. Pieces signed by the artist will boost value as well. Similar vases bring $600-$800.
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