Walk with Frederick Douglass

Courtesy of Cowan's/Hindman Auctions

A walking stick owned by Frederick Douglass heads to auction on February 20, estimated at $3,000-5,000.

An important collection of African Americana heads to auction later this month in Chicago. It all started with a photograph that collector Steve Turner bought at an antique show in 1996 and now encompasses hundreds of historical treasures, including the last known studio portrait of Harriet Tubman and a California imprint of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

But, as someone with a keen interest in literary memorabilia, my eye was drawn to the item pictured above: Frederick Douglass’s walking stick. While on a speaking tour of the South in 1888, an African-American militia unit calling themselves the Douglass Light Infantry presented this decorative cane to Douglass. The gold-topped cap features wild strawberry leaves “symbolizing righteousness and spiritual merit in Christian art,” according to the auctioneer. It is expected to sell for $3,000-5,000.

Courtesy of Cowan's/Hindman Auctions

Douglass, who died seven years later, spent much of his last decade giving speeches about his flight from slavery. A copy of the first edition (later printing) of his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) is also on offer, estimated at $600-800, as are two portrait photos of the writer and social reformer.

Douglass’s first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), is perhaps his best known work, but he ultimately published three versions of his life story, with the third appearing in 1881, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.