Collecting autographs has made me crazy. For example, I can’t look at a photo of somebody famous without a signature on it, and appreciate it. The picture just looks...so naked without a dark black Sharpie signature across the top!
Speaking of naked...there was a music website where a guy was bragging about a photo of Jim Morrison he purchased for thousands of dollars. It had never been published before, and the person with the negative was only making 20 prints and claimed he’d never print more. It had Jim and his common law wife Pamela nude, a la John and Yoko. What I tried explaining to that guy is...eventually that photo will get out. And the photo won’t have much value other than the curiosity factor. He disagreed. We’ll see if his $5,000 investment was a good one. Around that same time, some of Morrison’s handwritten lyrics were going for that price. A much better investment somebody made, but I digress.
Now, historical photos that are rare do impress me. I remember years ago when a photo was discovered of Anne Frank looking out the window. At least, they thought it could be her. It was virtually the only photo of her ever taken while in hiding from the Nazis.
I thought of those two stories when I heard today about a rare photograph that popped up of Harriet Tubman, the 19th century abolitionist and Underground Railroad “conductor”. She was an escaped slave that helped other slaves escape the South. She also served as a spy during the Civil War.
The image is from around the late 1860s, and Swann Galleries auctioned it and other items in an album that had other photos from slavery and abolition eras. It included portraits of John Willis Menard, the first African-American elected to Congress.
It was estimated to get between $20,000 and $30,000, but ended up going for $161,000 to Lion Heart Autographs, a Manhattan-based dealer.
The photo shows Tubman seated on a chair and was taken in Auburn. She was in her late 40s, making it extremely rare. Most photos show her later in life.
The Harriet Tubman national historic site in Auburn launched a crowd-funding campaign to try and acquire the picture. They raised around $27,000. Tubman’s former home there has become part of the national parks system.
She died in 1913 and is buried there. It’s a shame the photo didn’t return there. I’m hoping the buyer at least makes a nice copy and gives it to one of the museums.