Auctions | May 2, 2023

John Wilkes Booth Reward poster Sold for $166,375

Nate D Saunders

One of the scarcest and most important documents in the history of the United States, the very first printing of the reward poster for the capture of John Wilkes Booth and two other conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, has sold for $166,375 at Nate D Saunders Auctions.

Printed by the War Department, Washington, DC on 20 April 1865, five days after President Lincoln passed and six days before Booth was killed.

This broadside reward poster is the very first printing and also the rarest of the three iterations printed by the War Department, with some estimates of fewer than five existing today. It is much scarcer than the second printing, which has three woodcut frames at top for photographs of the conspirators. That second printing poster has recently sold several times in excess of $200,000. This first printing poster is so scarce that no recent auction records exist.

In large, bold type, poster reads ''$100,000 REWARD / THE MURDERER / Of our late beloved President Abraham Lincoln, / IS STILL AT LARGE''. Reward money for each man is listed, and at the bottom, their descriptions: Booth is ''Five Feet 7 or 8 inches hair, black eyes, and wears a heavy black moustache.''; in later printings, the public is warned that Booth has likely shaved off his moustache. John H. Surratt is described at length, and then David E. Herold (here misspelled as ''David C. Harold'') is described as ''a little, chunky man, quite a youth, and wears a very thin moustache.''

The poster originates from the Philadelphia area, passed down through the same family until its auction; it has never been sold or auctioned before.