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Caren Archive Treasures

April 11 can’t come soon enough By Emily Byrd Emily Byrd lives in North Carolina and is the editorial cordinator of special publications at Journalistic, Inc.

In 2014, Bonhams auction house broke the million-dollar mark in its sale of items from the Caren Archive. To date, the $1.3 million sale remains the highest amount realized for an auction of historical paper.

Now, Bonhams is preparing for “Treasures from The Caren Archive II: How History Unfolds on Paper” on April 11.

The Archive represents the most significant collection of historical paper outside of an institution in the U.S., with an estimated one million-plus photographs, documents, broadsides, and newspapers represented.

Constitution of the United States. Front page of the New-Haven Gazette, September 27, 1787. $12,000-18,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Many of the items featured in the upcoming sale relate to past elections and presidential history, which portray quirky parallels with modern politics while providing insight into some of America’s most beloved political figures.

One item generating significant buzz is a printing of George Washington’s Journal in The Maryland Gazette, March 1754. This is the only American printing that has appeared on the auction block since 1955. It recounts a twenty-two-year-old Washington’s journey from Virginia to Lake Erie and back again to parley with the French and keep them from settling west of the Ohio. It represents the entrance of Washington onto the public stage, and provides a detailed account of the mission that was an important precipitator of the French and Indian War.

“One of the most moving things about this printing of the Washington [Journal], and so many of the other objects in the sale, is that it contains traces of the original reader,” said Christina Geiger, Bonhams’ Director of Fine Books and Manuscripts “At the close of the Journal the words, ‘A Man of Honour’ are inked in after Washington’s name. There’s nothing better than feeling that immediate connection to a reader or participator or eyewitness from a couple of hundred years ago. That feeling is a big part of the reason we collect these things.”

The first secession broadside. Charleston Mercury Extra … The Union is Dissolved! December 20, 1860. $15,000-25,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Many of the three hundred-plus items in the sale hearken back to the most prestigious and prominent figures in US history, like George Washington, but there are just as many from lesser-known figures; these show history in the raw, not simply in official documents and books. In fact, Christina Geiger noted a growing fascination among collectors with the preservation and presentation of ordinary voices throughout history. In the current collecting market, Geiger said, battle accounts from a soldier on the ground can be more prized than official letters by the general.

Perhaps in testament to this, another highly anticipated auction item is a pocket Bible carried by a soldier in the Battle of Bunker Hill and subsequently annotated with his thanks and praise to both God and his gun for his deliverance.

The election ephemera in the sale further represents the spirit of democracy, complete with the problematic aspects alongside inspiring and heartwarming memorabilia. For instance, there’s a hand-lettered felt banner for Teddy Roosevelt’s campaign with the xenophobic beginning, “We have room for but one flag and one language here.”

“It’s so interesting to see the things that don’t really change, especially viewing this collection in the context of the current election year,” Geiger said. “We have newspapers with personal attacks on Thomas Jefferson, and wrong media and poll predictions, and it makes the items especially exciting and relevant.”

The sale, which will be held in New York, will contain lots with estimates running from the hundreds of dollars to nearly $100,000. It’s hoped that Bonhams will top its own record-breaking sale of two years ago, perhaps creating some history of its own to be remembered by collectors down the line.

Emily Byrd lives in North Carolina and is the editorial cordinator of special publications at Journalistic, Inc.
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