The hammer price for this photo of Abraham Lincoln with signature was
$3,250. Photo credit: Jimmy Garcia, EJ’s Auction & Appraisal.
Recently, there’s been a lot of controversial news regarding certain high-profile leaders having classified documents at their homes. While I can’t speculate on that, it did get me thinking about documents in general, and how people often mistakenly discard them. You’d be surprised at what bidders will pay for old deeds, letters, vintage car manuals, historic photos and other documents that you might easily categorize as trash. Here are a few examples:
Military Documents: We see militaria from many different countries come through our auction house, and collectors will often battle in bidding frenzies to win a coveted piece of history. Wartime letters, military manuals, maps, and yes, even declassified reports. A few years back, we auctioned a signed letter from Mexican Revolution leader Emiliano Zapata with his photo. The letter, dated October 10, 1916, offered a glimpse into a dispute over weapons. It hammered at $4,250.
Old Letters: There’s something special about holding and reading a handwritten letter, especially if it is in cursive, which rarely anyone uses these days. Whether it’s a love letter or something more formal, many factors affect value, including the condition of the paper, ink, envelope, postage stamps and whether the handwriting is legible. Of course, the more prominent the writer is, the better. We once sold a White House letter signed by Theodore Roosevelt written to Eleanor Hale, wife of Senator Eugene Hale, thanking her for a Christmas gift she had given him. It realized $875 at auction.
Historical Photos: It’s amazing how much technology has changed since Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre invented the first form of photography, the daguerreotype, in 1839. People are fascinated with historical photos. Some people collect antique and vintage photos from different eras, while others prefer to collect subject matters, such as people riding bicycles. Vintage photos are also valuable, including signed press photos from Hollywood celebrities and famous athletes. Factors affecting value include scarcity, condition, subject matter, the type of photography, markings, signatures, and in some cases, who the photographer was. One of the more memorable photographs we sold at auction was a photo of Abraham Lincoln with his signature that realized $3,250.
Financial Documents: Most people might be inclined to discard old financial documents, but there’s a market for many of them, including old stock or bond certificates, contracts and promissory notes, and event billhead listings of goods ordered or sold. We have sold numerous canceled stock certificates from pre-Civil War to the 1950s that have realized up to $300.
As a history buff, I’m always intrigued by the stories behind historical documents and photos. Remember, be careful handling these fragile documents. And don’t assume they are worthless – they may hold value to certain collectors.