From the collection of artist Bradford Edwards, 282 Vietnam War-era Zippo lighters were offered together. Passed during the sale, they sold after the auction for $35,250.
Robert Linn with two assistants and a stereo-view camera, photographed by I.H. Bonsall, circa 1863, 10¾" x 8½" plus mount, labeled "Point Lookout, Lookout Mt./ Tennessee River in the Distance," light toning and a small tear, $22,325.
This silver gelatin photograph is a panoramic view of Cincinnati National League Park, inscribed in the negative "Opening Game/ Cincinnati National League Park/ Chicago vs. Cincinnati/ Attendance 27,366." (The attendance figure is incorrect, as it was actually 26,336.) The 18½" x 50½" (sight size) photo has a 1912 copyright by Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Company of Chicago and brought $13,200.
From Lincoln's last sitting, Alexander Gardner's stereoscopic glass plate, collodion negative, 4¼" x 7", the right panel etched "Copyright by M.P. Rice 1891," $35,250.
Handsewn 34-star flag, made of cotton with doubly appliquéd stars around a spread-wing American eagle holding an "E Pluribus Unum" banner in its beak, having a red blood stripe in contact with the canton, which was generally only used in times of war, the hoist with five string ties, 37½" x 75", toning, stains, and tears, some of the stars coming loose, $11,162.50. The printed eagle resembles spread-wing eagles featured on broadsides distributed throughout the Civil War.
Partially printed military discharge document signed by George Washington as commander in chief of the Armies of the United States, April 1783, heavy wear, separations, stains, some loss to the "G" in the signature, $19,975.
Menu from a dinner given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Winston Churchill's honor aboard the flagship U.S.S. Augusta during the Atlantic Conference in August 1941, signed by all guests, $21,150.
Cowan's Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio
by Don Johnson
Photos courtesy Cowan's
It was the usual fare during the American history auction held June 21 in Cincinnati, Ohio, by Cowan's Auctions. That is to say, it wasn't usual at all.
Among the pickings were a collection of Zippo lighters carried by American servicemen during the Vietnam War; a menu signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and other Allied leaders at the Atlantic Conference during the Second World War; and a panoramic photograph of the first baseball game at Cincinnati National League Park, better known as Crosley Field.
The auction offered just under 400 lots, of which approximately 75% sold for a total of $697,000 (includes buyers' premiums), with additional sales taking place on passed lots following the auction's conclusion. Among the items brokered afterward was the Zippo collection, which realized $35,250 and went to a New York City collector of patriotic material.
"The collection sold to someone who really appreciates its significance," said C. Wesley Cowan, president of Cowan's Auctions. "In my conversations with the buyer, I think it's his intention to make certain that it is exhibited. I expect that it will ultimately wind up in a public institution. I'm happy with the outcome. It's a collection that I seriously doubt could ever be assembled again."
The assemblage featured 282 lighters engraved with symbols and sentiments of Americans deployed during the Vietnam War. Artist Bradford Edwards (b. 1954) acquired the lighters in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, during a ten-year period beginning in the early 1990's.
"I have handled thousands of them; I have handled maybe 10,000 of them," he was quoted as saying in a 2006 article in the New York Times. Edwards's father was a fighter pilot during the war in Southeast Asia. "My dad was a super-professional soldier," the younger Edwards told the newspaper. "He was a serious cat who taught at the Naval Academy, worked in the Pentagon, and taught weapons design. He was one of 100 Marine Corps pilots, and he did a couple of tours. I grew up with Vietnam in my life from day one."
The connection, however, went beyond the military. For Edwards, the lighters were art. Servicemen could get their lighters personalized at roadside tents and parlors. The messages on those lighters ranged from obscene to sentimental to fatalistic.
"You find everything on these lighters," Edwards said during an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) in Vietnam in 2008. "And what you find mostly is this general feeling of young male Americans-people who were not happy about coming and were even less happy about being here. Feelings about the war, about the military, about how they were feeling personally, missing their girlfriends, drug use, sex, everything was on the lighter. There it was, a miniature little canvas, and there was an etching table, a vendor, and you just had whatever you wanted inscribed on it. So, it was for them."
Edwards used the lighters in and as inspiration for his artwork. The collection was also the subject of a book, Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers' Engravings and Stories 1965-1973 by Sherry Buchanan (2007).
By the time of the NPR interview, Edwards had decided to give up the collection. "Dude, I have almost three hundred of the best examples that I've seen over the past fifteen years," he said then. "And I'm done. I've made the artwork; it's over."
The sale of the lighter collection took the total for Cowan's American history auction to well over $700,000. The day's results were boosted by a number of strong photography lots, including Alexander Gardner's stereoscopic glass plate negative from President Abraham Lincoln's last sitting. The negative, which was marked "Copyright by M.P. Rice 1891" on the right panel, realized $35,250.
The seated portrait of Lincoln was taken on February 5, 1865. Over the years, the negative had been assumed lost until it was discovered to have been passed down through the family of photographer Moses Parker Rice. The assumption is that Rice acquired Gardner's original negative and added the copyright.
According to Cowan's research, Rice arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1861 from Nova Scotia. He was listed as a photographer in 1865, working in the studio of J. Orville Johnson. Around the turn into the 20th century, Rice apparently was selling used glass negatives to Charles Bender, a scrap dealer who reclaimed the silver content.
"Importantly, Bender claims to have bought nearly 90,000 'Brady' negatives through Moses P. Rice," Cowan's catalog noted. Gardner's negatives were also purchased by Bender. The catalog added, "The present stereoscopic negative was not the only Gardner Lincoln negative Rice had access to. Beginning in 1891, Rice began marketing another Gardner portrait of Lincoln taken on November 8, 1863 (O-77). Rice issued this portrait many times using different papers and in varying sizes, often bearing a printed caption indicating that the print was made from the original, unretouched negative...Rice later claimed to have exposed the original negative. Based upon the image quality of this portrait, it seems entirely possible that Rice, in fact, owned the original negative."
There is no evidence, however, that Rice made prints from the stereoscopic negative from Lincoln's last sitting. "Perhaps the negative size was too small to enlarge," noted the auction listing. "More likely, there was little demand for stereoscopic prints." By 1891, the date of Rice's copyright on the negative, the fad of stereoscopic photography was largely past. Nonetheless, the catalog theorized, "While the precise origins of this important negative are unknown, one can surmise that given Rice's association with the other negative which he copyrighted in the same year, this may be the original, long-lost Gardner negative."
The negative generated considerable interest, according to Cowan, but still sold under its $40,000/60,000 estimate. The difference was a lack of confirmation. "I couldn't prove that this was Gardner's negative," Cowan said. "The circumstantial evidence was pretty strong. Had I been able to prove the unbroken chain of custody from Gardner to Rice, the price would have been a lot higher."
Other images that led to focused bidding included one of Robert Linn with two assistants posing near a stereo-view camera atop Lookout Mountain. Photographed by I.H. Bonsall circa 1863, the albumen image sold to a museum for $22,325. The deep, rich tones contributed to the price.
"I think a lot of people who don't know about the photographic processes used in the nineteenth century think a sepia-tone photograph is what a photograph looked like in the nineteenth century," said Cowan. "In fact, nineteenth-century photographs were issued in great, rich, marvelous, deep black-purplish tones." Those images often faded to sepia, giving added desirability to examples having strong, original tones.
Among the daguerreotypes offered was an anonymous sixth-plate example of a heavily armed trapper or hunter. In winter gear that included a heavy wool jacket and fur cap, the man sat with a full-stock percussion rifle at his side and a Colt revolver, knife, and ax in his belt. The image realized $14,100.
From a more contemporary time, a panoramic silver gelatin photograph of Cincinnati National League Park (later renamed Redland Field and then Crosley Field) during the ballpark's opening game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds on April 11, 1912, sold for $13,200.
Taken from a photographer's stand deep in the right field corner, the image shows the over-capacity crowd of 26,336, with every seat occupied and thousands of people watching from the field of play. Among the Reds were right fielder Armando Marsans, one of the first Latino players to play in the major leagues, and left fielder Bob Bescher, who set a National League record for stolen bases (81) in 1911, a mark not broken for more than 50 years. At first base was Dick Hoblitzell, the Reds leading hitter, who would later room with Babe Ruth as a member of the Boston Red Sox. The Cubs featured the Hall of Fame trio and the famed double-play combination of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance. The photograph is one of only two original prints known to exist. The other, owned by the Cincinnati Reds Museum, is in lesser condition.
"It's a marvelous photograph," said Cowan, who noted the details of those attending. "There's not a single woman in the crowd. All the men are wearing their hats and ties, and it's a big deal." The game exuded a party atmosphere, even then. "In front of the grandstand, the ground is littered with liquor bottles, hundreds of liquor bottles," Cowan noted. The photograph sold to a buyer in Texas.
The Atlantic Conference menu, which realized $21,150, was among a strong selection of autograph-related items offered. Arranged by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt before the United States had officially entered the Second World War, the three-day summit allowed Allied figureheads to strategize in August 1941. The menu from the first day of the event was signed by all guests: Churchill, Roosevelt, Sumner Welles, Harold R. Stark, George C. Marshall, Ernest J. King, Henry H. Arnold, Harry L. Hopkins, Averell Harriman, Sir Alexander G.M. Cadogan, Sir Alfred D.P.R. Pound, Sir John G. Dill, Sir Wilfrid R. Freeman, and Lord Cherwell.
The menu had been featured not long ago in an episode of Maryland Public Television's Chesapeake Collectibles, which uses a format similar to Antiques Roadshow. The menu itself was a scarcity. The addition of the signatures made it exponentially more valuable.
Other signed works in the auction included a partially printed document bearing the signature of George Washington, which made $19,975 despite condition problems; a letter co-signed by David Crockett, $20,400; and a requisition signed by Kit Carson, $11,162.50.
For more information, phone Cowan's Auctions at (513) 871-1670 or visit the Web site (www.cowans.com).
Civil War broadside urging New York City laborers to stand by the Union and not riot, thought to be published by Sinclair Tousey, dated July 18, 1863, 18" x 11½" plus frame, a few spots, cleaned and professionally repaired, $7050. The catalog noted, "Extremely rare for being issued so close to the riots, only a few institutional copies are known to exist."
Wild Bill Hickok carte de visite, ink inscription on the back, "The veritable 'Wild Bill'/ City-marshal of Abilene," back mark of "A.P. Trott/ Junction City, Kansas/ Over the Post Office," light spotting, $11,162.50.
Printed campaign handbill showing George Edwin Taylor, the first African-American presidential candidate, over the text "Candidate for Presidency of the United States/ 1904/ National Liberty Party," with Taylor's facsimile signature, 11" x 7", creased corner, wear, and light stains, $3525.