Auctions | November 29, 2022

American Gold Rush Miner Diary Tops Americana Auction

Potter & Potter

Manuscript diary of miner John Johnston

Chicago - Potter & Potter Auctions is pleased to announce the results of this this nearly 700 lot sale held on Thursday, November 17, 2022. After the hammer fell silent after a long day of competitive bidding, 94 lots made $500-2,000; 17 lots sold for $2,001-9,999; and four lots broke the five figure mark. All prices noted include the company's 20% buyer's premium.

The top lot in this auction was a remarkable, first person account of the California gold rush. Lot #84, the handwritten manuscript diary of miner John Johnston, was estimated at $8,000-12,000 and delivered $45,600. This 114 page record covered the period from January 1 – September 22, 1850 and included descriptions of daily life in the Auburn region of California including accounts of conflicts with Indigenous peoples, legal disputes, the first Auburn election, daily weather, fights between miners, Johnson's Ranch, and other events.

Medals commemorating outstanding contributions to causes or conflicts were well represented in this sale. Lot #465, a British hunger strike medal, was estimated at $10,000-15,000 and delivered $18,000. It was made in London by Toye & Co. in 1914. This 1" diameter silver medal with suspension bars had a green, white, and purple ribbon and was housed in its original case. It was dedicated to suffragette Emma Power. These medals were presented to women who had engaged in hunger strikes during imprisonment by the Women’s Social and Political Union at ceremonies held in their honor following their release.

Lot #385, a bronze medal depicting a profile view of Ho Chi Minh, was estimated at $100-200 and sold for $3,360. This c. 1960s medallion measured 2-¾” in diameter and was housed in in a red box. One of the most controversial figures of the 20th century, Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese revolutionary and statesman who served as President of North Vietnam from 1945-1965.

Lot #388, three British World War I medals, was estimated at $150-250 and traded hands at $1,320. They were issued to serviceman N. Hozier, and included a British War Medal bearing the likeness of King George V with an orange, white, black, and blue ribbon; an Allied Victory Medal with a winged female figure in flowing robes representing Liberty with a multi-colored ribbon; and a Star Medal with a crown with a red, white, and blue ribbon. All were housed in an a period black case.

Lot #651, a Harmon Trophy medal awarded to Jeannette Piccard (1895-1981) in 1934, was estimated at $300-500 and soared to $2,880. This Art Deco copper medal was decorated with a man standing on a mountain holding an airplane aloft with an eagle at his side on one side and the inscription "The International League of Aviators elects Jeannette Piccard as its world champion spherical balloon pilot for the year 1934" on the other. Piccard was a balloonist who in 1934 broke the women’s altitude record when she piloted her balloon 11 miles into the stratosphere, at the time earning her the title of "The First Woman In Space"; and making her the first pilot to fly through a layer of clouds.

This sale also included museum quality materials related to the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln:

* Lot #61, Frederick H. Meserve's (1865–1962) Lincolniana: Historical Portraits and Views, was estimated at $4,000-6,000 and sold for $21,600. This first edition was privately printed in New York in 1915 and included 368 photo prints related to all things Lincoln. Meserve was considered the preeminent historian of the photographs of Lincoln and one of America’s premier Lincoln collectors; he began collecting before 1900. His collection is housed in the Library of Congress.

* Lot #62, Meserve's The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln, was estimated at $600-800 and made $4,800. This four volume, limited edition collection was privately printed in New York in the 1917–1955 time frame and included 32 mounted photographic prints. Supplement four was signed by the author. Only 100 copies of these supplements were printed for subscribers or owners of the 1911 edition.

* Lot #69, Louis-Philippe-Albert de Orléans comte de Paris' The Battle of Gettysburg: from the History of the Civil War in America, was estimated at $3,000-5,000 and traded hands at $7,200. This three volume set was published in Philadelphia by Porter & Coates in 1886. This example was extra illustrated with the addition of 365 plates; each volume was handsomely bound in early half red morocco gilt and decorated with marbled sides, spines in six compartments with five raised bands, and gilt lettering.

Collections and archives of photographic images featured prominently in this auction.

* Lot #588, a collection of c. 300 real photo postcards, was estimated at $200-300 and sold for $1,560. These turn of last century cards were unsorted and stored in a carton. Their subjects included towns, buildings, main streets, occupational and miscellaneous views and others, many of Washington state.
* Lot #83, an album of 43 black and white photographs of central and northern California, was estimated at $300-400 and realized $4,320. The images were published in San Francisco by Faber Photo in the 1887-1892 time frame and included views of views of San Francisco, Napa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Yosemite. All were mounted onto card stock leaves, with the album bound in full brown calf.
* Lot #29, a group of c. 60 stereoscope cards depicting scenes related to the Civil War along with a Keystone View Co. viewer, was estimated at $200-300 and made $1,440. The photos dated from c. 1860s-1900 and were mounted onto stiff card stock. Most had either printed text or handwritten captions on verso.

Posters, ephemera, and category spanning antiques brought this intriguing sale full circle:

* Lot #666, an Edison-type Electrical Industries New York Universal Ticker Machine, was estimated at $1,000-2,000 and delivered $10,200. Its design elements included a lacquered brass mechanism, a black painted cast iron base over a wooden base, a later glass dome, and double alphabetic and numeric rollers.
* Lot #466, a Votes for Women sash, was estimated at $1,200-2,000 and sold for $6,600. This c. 1913. tri-colored sash with blue text measured 26 ½ x 4”. Similar sashes were worn by marchers at the Woman Suffrage Parade held March 3rd, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as US President.
* Lot #448, designer Kiyoshi Kuromiya's (1943–2000) Fuck The Draft, was estimated at $400-600 and traded hands at $4,320. This linen backed photographic litho was published in New York by the Dirty Linen Corp. in 1968. It measured 29-½ x 20-½” and depicted a young man burning his draft card. This poster was distributed via mail order, with suggestions to mail a copy to mothers, and even the White House. Eventually, the FBI arrested Kuromiya for using the USPS to distribute "lewd and indecent materials" but this poster had already made its rounds and secured a place in anti-draft history.

According to Christopher D. Brink, Potter & Potter Auctions' Head of Department, Fine Books & Manuscripts, "Our
inaugural historical sale was a smashing success with many items soaring past their high estimates. We continue to obtain strong prices for Americana, including that rare gold miner's diary that will be a cornerstone to that collector's library for years to come."