Today, May 10, marks the birth date of one of America's least popular but most famous characters: John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathiser who shot President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head at the theatre in 1865. Booth, himself an actor, was shot himself by a Union soldier.
Now obviously Lincoln collectibles are extremely valuable. We sold a document last year which had been signed by the celebrated President, and a version of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln and later owned by Robert Kennedy achieved a $3.7m World Record price last year.
But collectibles associated more directly with Booth are valuable in their own right.
A rare signed carte-de-visage photo of Booth sold for $10,000 last December at Alexander Autographs, which had previously sold a letter by Booth's killer, Thomas P "Boston" Corbett. Corbett gunned Booth down contrary to orders to take him alive, but escaped serious punishment.
The letter was to a well-wisher, and Corbett describes the circumstances of Booth's death. It was sold for an impressive $20,000. The same auction offered a letter by Booth himself in which Booth, who describes himself as "the worst letter writer alive" mourns the loss of his whiskey flask.
He had given it to a boy for safekeeping, but the boy failed in the task and Booth saw it destroyed. Something of a drinker, Booth describes the scene in poetical (or slight deranged) terms:
"I returned within sight of the Fort, and judge of my dismay upon arriving to see a waggon just crushing my best friend, but I kissed him in his last moments by pressing the snow to my lips, over which he had spilled his noble blood."
The letter went under the hammer with an estimate of $40,000-50,000, though it did not sell until after the auction so the final price is not known.
Heritage is currently getting in on the act, offering a very rare example of a broadside calling for his capture (along with his accomplices). It is expected to sell for $25,000 - $30,000 in the auction, and has already attracted a bid of $15,000 in the May 21 sale.
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