|By Susan Emerson Nutter
CINCINNATI— Collectors have always been passionate about their past. And when the items in question represent moments in America’s history, a special desire to preserve and protect comes into play.
Cowan’s American History event on June 21 offered a selection of artifacts that collectors desired to own. Known for bringing together a mix of historical images, papers, journals and political pieces for their historical auctions, Cowan’s June event was no different.
Items with a political flair continue to impress, especially when they are scarce and in great condition. A previously unknown presidential campaign flag commanded $49,350. The Clay and Frelinghuysen “The Same Old Coon” 1844 presidential campaign flag measures 24 3/4 by 29 inches. Made of silk, the red, white and blue banner utilized brownish-black ink and featured the Henry Clay coon at center in the act of skinning a fox.
The fox, hanging by a rope thrown over a tree branch and tied down by a box marked Treasury, was meant to symbolize Martin Van Buren. The detailed imagery continued with a river running between the “skinning scene” and the United States Capitol Building with an American flag which looked to have CLAY written on it. There was also a small raccoon sitting atop the Capitol, and a man looking towards a distant star stands next to the building.
The legend below the scene read: Martin was tried ... and found guilty of sinning; the coons then decreed to give him a skinning.
The flag included 12 stars in a circular pattern around a large center star at upper left.
And this is where it gets interesting. According to Cowan’s, “The name James Snodgrass is stamped near the 13-star canton and in the bottom right corner of the flag.” The lot also included a Bible that belonged to Snodgrass. The flag’s catalog entry describing the Bible said, “Snodgrass’ name stamped and inked on ffep, inked on back of title page, and inked on rfep, along with a birth date of October 22, 1822, indicates that the Bible might have belonged to the son of the James Snodgrass identified as the owner of the flag. With Agnes Snodgrass Born April First 1824 inked on rfep, which is also stamped Snodgrass.”
From researching these items, Cowan’s discovered the campaign flag most likely belonged to James Snodgrass of Ohio, who served in the War of 1812 under Capt. Ammi Maltbie. The flag’s consignor also discovered two letters on U.S.Archive.org, both written by who is believed to be the same James Snodgrass from Baltimore in 1846, in which he expresses support for the abolitionist movement. James and his wife, Elizabeth, had a son named James who was born in 1822, but died at the young age of 24 and is buried at Pioneer Cemetery in Bellbrook, Ohio.
A Peter Force copy of the Declaration of Independence realized $9,988. An archivist and historian, Force decided to bring this document and others to the masses by creating an American Archives series. Originally planned as more than 20 volumes, with subscriptions for 2,500 copies, according to Cowan’s, “In 1843, Force was commissioned to print the series, but the project was abruptly canceled by Secretary of State William Marcy. Force scaled back his plans to a smaller series and 500 subscriptions when Congress re-authorized the project.” It is thought that 1,500 copies were included in the American Archives, 5th Series book in 1848, and that about 250 of these rice paper copies are thought to exist today.
Another interesting lot with a political bent was the McClees’ Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Representatives of the 35th Congress, Photographed and Published by McLees and Beck in 1859. This album of salted paper photographs brought $16,450.
Cowan’s describes this lot as being, “An important and historic album of the major political figures of the years immediately preceding the Civil War, many of whom would leave civilian life to assume new roles as leaders for the Union and Confederate forces, and others, who would frame the social discussions of the day.”
Included in the album were portraits of the future president of the Confederacy and almost his entire cabinet, as well as 12 future Confederate generals, and an aging Sam Houston of Texas.
Historical photography is always of interest, especially when the images are by legendary photographer, Matthew Brady. Add to the equation, the significance of the print’s subject matter, and you get a lot that brings $19,975. Such was the case with the albumen print titled Gen. R.E. Lee and Staff with the copyright line, “Brady & Co.’s Washington, D.C., 1865.”
The image showing Lee with his son, Rooney, and Colo. Walter Taylor taken at Lee’s Richmond home on Franklin Street in April of 1865 – not long after Appomattox – measured 7 by 8 1/4 inches.
Not all the images sold at Cowan’s were of recognizable figures like General R.E. Lee. For example a stereodaguerreotype of Samuel Gilman Brown (1813-1885), the American educator who served as president of Hamilton College from 1867 to 1881 is maybe not a household name, but this lot still required a hefty bid of $17,625 by the new owner. Housed in a half plate, Boston-style push-button case, the image lacked a photographer’s credit, but is documented in Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes, by Romer and Wallis, 2005.
When important eras in American history are preserved in imagery, collectors are willing to bid strong. A half plate daguerreotype showing four miners at work sold for $16,450.
The image shows one of the men standing in one of several visible trenches digging with a pick, while another uses some type of large hand pump to remove water from the trench. The two men at left center are working a long sluice box. The photographer added tinted nuggets to the sluice and inside the gold pan lying between the two men at right.
The sale surpassed the $750,000 mark, and more than 350 bidders on the floor, phone and Internet had registered to participate. Evan Sikes, Cowan’s director of marketing and communications, said, “Strong bidding from the phones and Internet drove many of the lots well past their pre-auction estimates.”
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