(Written by By Don Ackerman) After working feverishly over the last month, during a time that is traditionally a lull or slow period, we are putting the finishing touches on our February 3-22, 2020 Americana & Political Auction. The auction will contain 966 lots and is made possible through the participation of close to 140 consignors. Though it remains to be seen, it may be our best auction yet. We are literally pulling out “all the stops” and there’s “no holding back!”
As is typical, the Signature Session of the auction will feature presidential & political items from our country’s history. This is followed by general Americana (with a bunch of Civil War material thrown in for good measure), then Western, then “Americana Art” which is reserved for paintings, sculpture, bronzes, engravings and other graphic arts. Many of these are presidential in subject matter, but are not presidential campaign items per se, but certainly make a fine adjunct to any collection of political Americana.
Presidential paintings have become a staple of our sales and have consistently been well-received. The stand-out offering in this regard in an oval enamel on copper by William Birch, signed with his initials and the date 1796. Birch was an English enamelist who came to Philadelphia in the 1790s. He specialized in portraits and produced sixty versions of Washington. Washington was still in office when this handsome piece was produced, making it quite special.
We have a fine selection of early presidential china. The stand-out offering in that department is a Liverpool piece that depicts Thomas Jefferson. It is two-handled, with pierced air vents and an open shield aperture on the bottom. It is hand-painted, rather than transfer-printed. Opinions vary, but it is supposed to have something to do with hot chocolate. We could not locate any other piece of Queensware in this format. Form, subject matter, condition. It’s a winning trifecta!
We have six different campaign flags… the hottest category in the hobby. They’re all online for you to see, but we’ll mention just two. First up is an important James Buchanan portrait flag from South Carolina, still attached to the original stick. Heritage has handled three of the four Buchanan portrait flags known and holds the record ($275K) for one of them (highest price paid for a political flag at public auction). This one is fresh to the hobby and is offered with an opening bid of $25,000. For you 20th century collectors, consider the McKinley & La Follette jugate coattail flag (in campaign cane format). It is unique, in mint condition, with great crossover appeal (cane, flag, Wisconsin, coattail, Third Party collectors). That is slated to open at $5,000.
We are gratified when favored with consignments from old-time collectors. We have Woman’s Suffrage material from two such collections plus general political Americana from other distinguished sources. First and foremost is the second installment of items from the Sam and Jeff Pressman Collection. Though relatively small in volume, the highly-selective collection takes a “back seat” to no one. It represents a true source of pride to Jeff as well as cherished memories of a shared passion and time well-spent with his father. We could point out numerous highlights, but will make our point with just one blockbuster, namely the Holy Grail of TR pins, the legendary “TR at the Gate”. If you are not successful in acquiring one, you can at least aspire to own an example! We are also selling another great collection, from a different consignor, that consists of every Truman rarity in the accepted canon. As an example, consider the “60 Million Working” picture pin in excellent condition. What do you say? You like the Truman “8-Ball” better? We don’t want to be “behind the 8-Ball,” so we’re offering that one, too!
As usual, there are presidential relics in the sale. The piece that might attract the most attention, striking a chord with many, is the pink & blue wool Oleg Cassini outfit that was fitted at the White House around the time of the ill-fated Dallas trip. It is made of the same material as the outfit (with pill box hat) she wore that day. It is very similar in style, with black collar (on the overcoat rather than the jacket), blue blouse and double-breasted button arrangement (again, on the overcoat rather than the jacket). The starting bid is $10,000 for the ensemble. It’s the first piece of Jackie “First Lady-worn” clothing we’ve offered and the Dallas connection makes it special. We have other mementos of “Camelot” as well as an unusually strong selection of official White House china, a perennial favorite with collectors.
Advertising and folk-art collectors might be drawn to our Wiiliam Demuth zinc counter-top trade figure of Punch. Unlike cigar store Indians, these were placed inside the store, at point of purchase. Our example retains a good portion of the original paint, exuding the “character” and patina that only comes with the passage of time. It is just one of numerous advertising signs and window displays in the auction.
Western Americana will be represented by dozens of artifacts with names familiar (Custer, “Buffalo Bill,” Annie Oakley) and names not so familiar (Sam Bass, “Dangerous Dan” Tucker). The standout item might be the shotgun that Wyatt Earp borrowed from posse-member Fred Dodge. He used it to avenge the killing of his brother, Morgan Earp, by “Curly Bill” Brocius. Retribution was exacted on March 24, 1882. The shotgun was returned to Dodge and used by him in the course of his employment with Wells, Fargo & Company. We also have Frank James’ ammunition belt. It still retains six unfired 22 cal. bullets. According to the accompanying affidavit, it was given by James to the writer’s father during one of their numerous hunting trips in Oklahoma. Finally, a Bacon Manufacturing percussion pocket revolver, dated 1867, that belonged to Frank Butler, is set to cross the auction block. Butler was a crack shot who teamed up with and married Annie Oakley. The gun passed to Oakley’s sister after the passing of Frank & Annie.
Our next Americana & Political auction will take place in mid-September. We’re already working on consignments for that sale, but this February auction will be a “tough act to follow!”