Know-Nothing Party flag tops sale of historic Americana auction at Cowan’s

A rare Know-Nothing Party flag sold for $42,300, highlighting Cowan’s Auctions Historic Americana Including the Civil War and West Sale held Dec. 4-5, 2008.

The flag, which reads, “Native. Americans. Beware of Foreign. Influence,” is a prime example of the extreme patriotism Native Americans felt in the 19th century during the increasing rate of European immigration into the United States. The Native American party was founded in 1841 and adhered to the belief that foreigners were a detriment to the American existence.

Party members believed that foreigners should not be allowed to hold any office of public trust in the government, whether federal, state, or local. In 1854, the party adopted the policy that even United States citizenship should be granted only after an emigrant had lived in this country for 21 years – thus the symbolism on the flag.

Day one held the biggest surprise of the two-day sale when the Louis Lumiere Cinematograph hit the auction block. After attracting national and international attention, the item garnered $30,000, more than quadrupling its presale estimate of $4,000-$6,000.

Auguste and Louis Lumiere are credited with the world’s first public film screening on Dec. 28, 1895. The showing of approximately 10 short films lasting only 20 minutes in total was held in the basement lounge of the Grand Cafe on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris and was the very first public demonstration of their device that they called the Cinematograph, which effectively functioned as camera, projector and printer all in one.

Scottish photographer Alexander Gardner’s group of 32 stereoviews of the Fort Laramie Treaty fetched $36,425.  These photographs are exceptionally rare because Gardner was the only photographer on the scene to record the events of this treaty between Washington and representatives of the Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, Crow and the Brule, Oglala and Miniconjou Dakota.

Gardner’s rare mammoth plate of Abraham Lincoln hit the auction block to sell for $34,662, more than doubling its presale estimate of $10,000-$15,000. The 15-inch by 18 1/2-inch albumen print is mounted on gold ruled 18-inch by 22-inch cream mount. The image was one of at least six plates exposed by Gardner on Sunday, Nov. 8, 1863, and its size alone represents a rarity. The item was one of three top-selling Lincoln items to be featured in the sale. The other two included an Abraham Lincoln letter to Secretary of War Stanton on Jan. 9, 1863, which garnered $21,150, and a dinner plate from the first Lincoln White House service with John Hay Provenance that sold for $14,100.

Other top-selling photographs include a pair of hand-colored tintypes of Western Great Lakes Indians that sold for $15,275. An enormous archive of Powell Survey stereoviews fetched $16,450. This lot of 210 oversized yellow mounts depicts the Grand Canyon and its geological formations. Powell’s survey of the Grand Canyon remains one of the great feats of 19th century exploration. Two volumes of hand-tinted photographs of Uniforms of Enlisted Men of the U.S. Army also grabbed bidders’ attention and sold for $23,500.

Day two of the auction had all eyes on Natural History of New York, Part I, which sold for $3,055, well beyond the estimated price of $200-$400.
“I was pleased that once again bidders responded positively to some of the exceptional historical rarities we offered,” said Wes Cowan, owner of Cowan’s Auctions and star of the PBS TV series History Detectives.

The next Historic Americana, Including the Civil War and the American West sale is slotted for June 3, 2009. For more information, call 513-871-1670 or e-mail

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