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Abraham Lincoln memorabilia brings in nearly a million at Texas auction

A Texas auction generated 800,000 from the largest private collection of memorabilia from President Abraham Lincoln and his assassination, Jan. 24, 2015
A Texas auction generated 800,000 from the largest private collection of memorabilia from President Abraham Lincoln and his assassination, Jan. 24, 2015
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A Dallas, Texas auction of President Abraham Lincoln memorabilia held on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Heritage Auction House in Dallas has brought in over $803,000 including $25,000 just for a lock of the assassinated president's hair. The David P. Dow collection is named after the Fort Worth art gallery owner who started his collection after another presidential assassination, John F. Kennedy's. His son Greg Dow organized the auction of over 300 items and the Heritage Auction House. Dow's reassure trove was considered the nation's largest private Lincoln collection.

The majority of the 302 items are not just from and about Lincoln, but more specifically his assassination. Among the most noteworthy items sold at the auction was a lock of Lincoln's hair, which Surgeon General Joseph Barnes cut when he was treating the president head after John Wilkes Booth shot him at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. Another was a letter written and signed by Booth from 1861, which made more than the lock of hair with $30,000. One of the big money makers at $30,000 was a "framed compilation" of signatures all associated with the assassination including Lincoln, Booth and the Union officer Boston Corbett, who killed booth.

Among the lesser moneymakers included written eyewitness accounts of Lincoln's assassination, which sold for $27,500 and $14,375 respectively. Booth's military arrest warrant brought in $21,250. One of the more morbid items on the auction block was a piece of Lincoln's death bed linen with some of his blood sold for $6000. A non-assassination related item, a fragment of a letter Lincoln wrote in 1862 admitting that the North was not doing well in the war, surprisingly did not sell. The auction house is not disclosing the names of those who purchased any of the items from the collection.

Both Dow and curator Scott Barker catalogued all the items from his father's vast collection. The public preview was held on Friday, Jan. 23 at Heritage Auctions, while the auction itself was held a day later on Saturday, Jan. 24. Dow explained that his father who died in 2009 was a history buff, "He started collecting because of his interest in the Civil War and military history. But then he became interested in Lincoln and the assassination." Dow described the extent of his father's love for history to Fort Worth Star Telegram "Dad said, 'When the history bug bites, it's all over with.' For about 46 to 47 years, it was all wheels, no brakes."

There was one pivotal moment that inspired Dow's collection, the day he met President John F. Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963. Dow met and shook hands with the president in front of the Hotel Texas minutes before Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy to death. Greg Dow recounted the anecdote prior to the auction, "My dad, he wasn't the last person, but he was one of the very last people to shake President Kennedy's hand. The Secret Service was tugging on President Kennedy's coattails and going, 'Come on, Mr. President. We have to go.'"

The first items Dow bought for his collection in 1963 were some books, from then on the collection grew. Dow soon branched out his collections, with memorabilia related to other assassinated presidents including, "Kennedy, James Garfield and William McKinley." Still Dow's main and largest collection was on "Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and the assassination by John Wilkes Booth."

Dow also explained that his father never intended to part with the collection, saying, "He was strictly a historian. He would say, 'I'll never know how much it was worth because I'll die owning it.'" His son sold the collection partially because as he expressed, "I want other collectors to have a chance to enjoy it." Still Dow plans to hold onto his father's other collections, and is helming the family business, Dow Art Galleries in Fort Worth, established in 1935, and the oldest gallery in the city.

The auction coincided with the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, which was planned and not coincidental. The director of Americana Auctions for Heritage Tom Slate commented on why it was so timely to auction the collection now, "Considering Mr. Dow's effort to document the assassination and the nation's reaction, it's fitting the collection is offered during its sesquicentennial year."

Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian, Israeli and international news, anything from crime to human interest stories and everything in between.

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