Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2023 Issue

RR Auctions raises the bar for Ephemera

The best ephemera is more valuable than gold

Not so long ago ephemera as a collectible category was an interesting idea that was busy being born.  Over the past 20 years it has been making the greatest gains in value and its place as a collectible is today well established.  Nevertheless, it still takes some time to get used to the increase in the numbers.  Here’s a fresh example.

On 23 September, 2023 RR auctions handled some very rare books and paper and among these lots were two ticket stubs for $262,500.  Ranked among the top 500 lots sold in 2022, that outcome would have ranked No. 164. That’s a formidable result for ticket stubs!

Here’s the lot description.

Lot Number

6018

Author

Abraham Lincoln

Title

Abraham Lincoln Assassination: (2) Ford's Theatre Front-Row Tickets from April 14, 1865 (ex. Forbes Collection)

Year Published

1865

Place Printed

 

Printed By

 

Description

Exceedingly rare pair of original front-row balcony tickets to the production of 'Our American Cousin' at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865, during which President Abraham Lincoln was shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth. Each ticket measures 4.25 x 1.75 and is stamped at the center: "Ford's Theatre, APR 14, 1865, This Night Only." The left sides of the tickets are imprinted, "Ford's Theatre., Friday., Dress Circle!," and are filled out in pencil with section ("D") and seat numbers ("41" and "42"). The right sides are clipped, evidently by the ticket-taker when presented for admission, and carry the printed signature of "Jas. R. Ford, Business Manager." Includes an envelope annotated in a contemporary hand: "Front Seats, Dress Circle, Reserved, Complimentary, Fords Theatre, April 14, 1865, (Night of Assassination of President Lincoln)." The tickets are in very good condition, with fragile central vertical folds, some light creasing, and one with a chipped lower corner.

The circular April 14th-dated stamp is an exact match to one unused, yellow 'Orchestra' level ticket held by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation; this matching stamp also appears on a used ticket stub in the collection of Harvard University's Houghton Library. The Harvard stub, which consists of only the left half of the ticket, was filled out in pencil in a similar manner to these two. Only a handful of authentic examples of Ford's Theatre tickets from the fateful night of April 14, 1865, are known to exist.

Provenance: The Forbes Collection of American Historical Documents, Christie's, October 9, 2002.

John Wilkes Booth always wanted to be famous and he achieved that immortal notoriety, though not in the way he originally envisioned. Though rightly notorious for assassinating Abraham Lincoln, Booth was already a well-known actor; he said that of all Shakespearean characters, his favorite role was Brutus, the slayer of a tyrant. In 1863, Booth performed for the first time at Ford's Theatre in Washington, taking the lead in The Marble Heart. Among his admiring audience was President Abraham Lincoln himself, who rapturously applauded Booth’s performance.

The scene at Ford's Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865, has been well documented through newspaper reports, eyewitness accounts, and countless tellings and re-tellings of the tragedy. The holders of these tickets, seated more or less directly across from the president's box, would have had a perfect view of the harrowing events. During the third act, Booth entered the president's box from the rear, fired a bullet into the back of his head, and vaulted over the railing onto the stage. Brandishing a dagger overhead, Booth reportedly borrowed from Brutus and shouted 'sic semper tyrannis 'thus always to tyrants” before making his escape. An illustration published in Harper's Weekly, April 29, 1865, features an artist's concept of the aftermath of the slaying, drawn from the "Dress Circle" level at about the same angle as these seats in "Section D."

This type of Ford's Theatre ticket for April 14, 1865, is exceedingly rare as auction records reveal no other examples offered since their original sale as part of the Forbes Collection in 2002.

Comments

Tickets

References

 

Provenance

 

Estimated Price

USD 100,000.00 - 150,000.00

Actual Price

USD 262,500.00

 

Paper continues to do well.

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