Skip to main content

Bids open at $100K for Abraham Lincoln letter to fiance

Nearly 870 lots of historically significant objects relating to the life of President Abraham Lincoln debuts Sept. 17 in Heritage Auctions’ Lincoln and His Times auction.

Abraham Lincoln rarities

DALLAS — Nearly 870 lots of important and historically significant objects relating to the life of President Abraham Lincoln debuts Sept. 17 in Heritage Auctions’ Lincoln and His Times. This event is a rare joint auction presented in cooperation with the publishers in celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Rail Splitter. The Rail Splitter is a respected publication for enthusiasts of Abraham Lincoln and related memorabilia.

Abraham Lincoln letter

A highly important Abraham Lincoln letter to his first fiancé, Mary Owens.

“In creating this auction, Heritage has made a conscious effort to include something for everyone, both in terms of subject matter and value range,” said Tom Slater, Director of Americana auctions for Heritage. “The auction includes many interesting but affordable lots with minimum opening bids of just $1 as well as numerous five and even six-figure rarities of museum quality. We’re also pleased to point out that not one of these lots from more than 75 individual consignors carries a consignor-set reserve."

Perhaps the most significant Lincoln item in the sale is an 1836 letter written by a 27-year-old Lincoln to his first fiancé, Mary Owens ($100,000 opening bid). The letter reveals much of Lincoln’s character and personality. It is among the earliest from the future president to have survived. “Lincoln wrote three letters to Owens, and two are forever ensconced in institutional collections,” Slater said. “One of those, now at the New York Historical Society, was offered in 2000 in the auction of the legendary Malcolm Forbes manuscript collection, where it sold for $779,000. The Mary Owens letter offered in our current auction is the last one which, at least for the moment, is available for private ownership.”

Rare Abraham Lincoln photographs

Abraham Lincoln carte de visite

Abraham Lincoln carte de visite. The photo was taken by Mathew Brady in Washington, D.C. sometime in 1862.

Another exciting Lincoln item is a pristine signed carte de visite photo of the 16th president. This example includes authentication of his autograph written on verso by his personal secretary John Hay ($40,000 opening bid). “This item has drawn tremendous interest,” says Slater. “It has already received over 2,000 page views during the online auction preview, and the catalog is not even out yet! Lincoln’s signature is probably the most faked of any president, and it is impossible to overstate the importance of having such a contemporary authentication by a man who undoubtedly knew the president’s signature better than anyone.”

The sale features one of the most extensive selections of rare original Lincoln photographs. The selection was assembled over many years by specialist collector Dr. Michael Krane. Civil War photographs are also in evidence, including a fine range of carte de visite images of Union and Confederate generals.

Civil War rarities at auction

“The rise and fall of the Confederacy was profoundly interwoven with Lincoln’s last years and tragic assassination,” Slater notes, “and so the auction includes a number of important Confederate items, including War-date letters by Robert E. Lee ($6,000 opening bid) and Jefferson Davis ($3,000 opening bid) and a unique hand-made First National flag which once belong to the notorious ‘femme fatale’ and Confederate spy Belle Boyd ($50,000 opening bid). The flag, given by Boyd to a Union officer shortly before her arrest on orders of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and documented in the journal he kept, was passed down through the officer’s family along with several of his uniforms which are also offered in this auction ($4,000 opening bid). These priceless artifacts, along with their remarkable back story, have only recently come to light.”

Belle Boyd First National Confederate States of America Flag

The Belle Boyd First National Confederate States of America Flag Presented by the "Siren of the Shenandoah" on June 10, 1862. Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions,

Another unique offering is a solid gold medal weighing some 30 ounces, struck at the U.S. Mint for presentation to a dying Henry Clay in 1852 to honor his nearly half century of service as Speaker of the House, presidential candidate, Secretary of State, and Senator. “Only a single gold medal was struck,” Slater said, “but a limited number were also struck in bronze, and one of those copies was given to Abraham Lincoln by the committee which had conceived the original medal upon his election to the presidency in 1860. Lincoln was well known to be a great admirer of Henry Clay, and in response he wrote thanking the committee for the “extreme gratification … in possessing so beautiful a memento of him whom, during my whole political life, I have loved and revered as a teacher and leader.”

The medal carries a conservative minimum opening bid of $75,000 and is expected to draw interest from both devotees of historical artifacts and U.S. Mint medal collectors. Bidding opens at barely double the value of the gold content.

The Rail Splitter connection

“For many years The Rail Splitter held eclectic annual auctions presenting a wide range not only of Lincolniana, but also items relating to the personalities and events which shaped his times,” said Donald Ackerman. (Ackerman is co-founder of The Rail Splitter and editor since its inception, and a consignment director and cataloger at Heritage since 2010.) “But over the years it became more difficult to assemble a critical mass of auction-worthy items, and seven years ago the auction was reluctantly discontinued. I’m delighted that the broad reach enjoyed by Heritage has enabled us to put together an amazing catalog in the tradition of those memorable ‘Rail Splitter’ events.”

The Lincoln and His Times catalog is online now.

Weekly Showcase



Over 100 YEARS of Chinese History - Our pristine Jade Collection is extensive and beautiful!  Please visit our web site to get an idea of how beautiful this collection is.