How Much Would You Pay for a Lincoln Signature?

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April 14, 2015 2:55 p.m.

Here’s a fascinating little bit of information I’ve always marveled at. It probably only has any resonance if you’re a history person. But here goes. Back when I was a little kid one of my best friends subscribed to the catalog of a dealer in historical documents. Even at our young age, I was surprised at how relatively cheap it was to buy say a Civil War era newspaper. Just a few dollars. Well within the means of even a kid. And by “few dollars” I don’t mean a rich person’s euphemism but maybe $5 or $10.

For, literally, a piece of history.

But even then and since then I’ve always marveled that things you would think are totally outside the range of all but the very wealthiest people or perhaps not available at all don’t actually cost that much money. A lot of money, don’t get me wrong. And more than I would pay even if I could. But still, not that much money.

Here are a couple examples.

I was just talking about this with one of my colleagues. And I Googled to find a website of a dealer in historical documents and autographs. So this is just sort of randomly what I found in a few moments of Googling.

As you can see here, you can buy a document signed by Abraham Lincoln for about $10,000. Most of these ‘cheaper’ documents are signed commissions and stuff like that. At this time, most of the documents and acts that required the president’s authorization actually got his signature. So Lincoln signed a ton of documents. But still, you can buy an actual document signed by Abraham Lincoln for $10,000? That amazes me.

Here for instance is a military commission signed by Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. July 1st 1864. $10,000.

Here for $28,000 is an actual letter that Lincoln wrote intervening on behalf of a grieving father allowing him to go to the front lines to collect the remains of his son.

What about Thomas Jefferson? Jefferson signed way fewer documents than Lincoln. Here are various letters he wrote for between $20,000 and $30,000.

George Washington? The prices are similar. Here’s actually a Society of the Cincinnati document he signed for $13,000.

Now, I want to be clear. We’re basically talking about the price of a new car. So this is a lot of money. But again, just not as much money as I would think to own such a thing. Part of me sort of wonders and worries: shouldn’t these things be in a museum or stored away somewhere rather than being on some random person’s wall? The answer is that very few of these documents have any historical value. They’re little different from the checks you or I sign. For instance, here is a proclamation signed by Lincoln at the same website but it’s Lincoln declaring the existence of a domestic insurrection and a call up of troops.

They’re selling that one for $900,000! But that is basically the document you could argue began the Civil War. And yeah, a million dollars. That’s quite a bit of money.

Anyway, as I said, perhaps you have to be a history person to be sort of amazed by this. But I’m one. So I am.

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