Robert Russell Crans Jr. stores a multitude of items once owned and touched by President Abraham Lincoln and his family that represent an era in American history and politics that most can only read in history books.
Over hundreds of years, Lincoln personal items have been passed down through generations of family members. Mr. Crans is adopted, but his mother’s stepfather, Robert Lincoln Beckwith, was the last known blood relative of the Lincoln family.
He said he was ready to part ways with collecting, mainly due to financial pressure from his medical bills and his need to refinance his home. So, he brought some of these items to the market, including a fan belonging to the first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, when she was in the White House; a sterling silver ladle from the wife of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the President and Mrs. Lincoln; and a portrait of the first lady’s half-sister.
They are among hundreds of presidential artifacts sold in an online auction that began last week to celebrate Presidents Day at RR Auction, a Boston auction house.
The auction house is offering the presidential items, including letters, photographs and personal items, up for auction until Thursday.
Auctions like this open up a market for people who want to sell the historic items they’ve owned for decades and for presidential collectors who want to own a piece of American history.
The auction house said the items for sale included a 1768 lottery ticket signed by Washington that is expected to sell for at least $ 20,000. The lottery was designed by Washington as a way to raise funds to build a road through the Allegheny Mountains.
Bidders can also purchase locks of presidential hair from Washington and First Lady Martha Washington, estimated to cost around $ 75,000, or Lincoln for around $ 20,000. At that time, locks were keepsakes often given to loved ones.
There is also a photograph, only one in three that exists, of Lincoln and his son, Tad Lincoln, who died at the age of 18, signed by the president that is estimated to be around $ 75,000.
Articles from more modern presidents are also available, such as a personal letter from President Ronald Reagan to his daughter Patti Davis; President John F. Kennedy’s crimson red Harvard cardigan; and even a check signed by President Donald J. Trump.
A lot of people don’t realize they might own something important, like a letter from one of the country’s founding fathers, said Bobby Livingston, spokesperson for the auction house.
“It tells the story of the United States,” Mr. Livingston said. “History is repeating itself in America. Everything is going well here in this auction. “
Bidders buy these presidential items as a hobby, and it doesn’t have to be expensive, said Winston Blair, a board member of the American Political Items Collectors, a nonprofit founded in 1945 to collect and preserve presidential memorabilia.
And every time there are intense elections, similar to those of 2016 and 2020, interest in collecting presidential items increases.
“It’s so cool to know that this person was president and that she was wearing it, they signed it,” said Mr. Blair, who has a collection of 3,000 presidential items. “We can once own what they held in their hands. It makes a connection.
Mr Blair said he tended to favor items for private collectors over museums because sometimes curators remove items from public display and because some donated items have been auctioned off to help with the fundraising or to pay off debts.
“They’ve invested more in it and they appreciate it more, and they’ll do whatever they can to make sure it stays in good shape,” Mr Blair said of personal collectors, adding that means also that rare coins can be recycled. on the market. “It gives us hope that one day we can own it again.”
The majority of the country’s cultural and historical artifacts are owned by private collectors, said Margaret Holben Ellis, president of the American Institute for Conservation and professor of paper conservation at New York University.
But the problem with private collections, she said, is that many collectors may not know how to properly preserve sensitive historical items or have a desire to display them.
“When something goes into a private collection, the custodian is only a temporary custodian,” she said of private collectors. “The same expectation of preservation should be extended to these objects.”
The institute offers resources to help private collectors conserve historic pieces and recommends not exhibiting them to prevent natural light from damaging them, which is why museums will recycle the collections, Professor Holben Ellis said.
Mr Crans said he couldn’t properly protect his collection at his Naples, Florida home because it could be on the way to hurricanes. He said he would prefer all of his Lincoln family items to go to a museum, but had been stuck in fundraising to get his family out of severe financial strain.
“That’s all I have left – that’s it,” he said. “I’m kind of forced to part with some family heirlooms.”