– General George Armstrong Custer’s personally owned Army-issue Model 1865 Spencer Carbine brought $179,250 to claim top lot honors in Heritage Auctions’ $2.5+ million Political, Western Legends & Americana Signature® Auction, Dec. 11-12.
Items relating to the well-known general led the event, from an important oil painting of the Battle of Washita by Frederic Remington which sold for $179,250 to a trove of letters from an officer among the first on the scene to identify bodies following Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s crushing 1876 defeat at Little Big Horn, which sold for $89,625.
Additional top lots include one of the most important, from-life photographs of Custer ever to come to market sold for $83,650 and Custer’s personally-owned gun belt with holder and accoutrements sold for $71,700.
“Custer is among a special group of historical figures who simply captivate collectors,” said Tom Slater, director of Americana for Heritage Auctions. “We bring important, personally-owned objects to auction all year long but it’s always a delight to offer items owned by such an accomplished, yet controversial figure as George Custer.”
The auction featured a number of unique historical rarities, including a one-of-a-kind broadside created by Act of Congress to celebrate the July 4,1876 Centennial of American Independence, signed by President Grant and every sitting member of the federal government, which sold for $89,625. An important handwritten letter by James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok signed in four places sold for a strong $71,700 to a phone bidder.
Nearly as significant was an important 1867 letter signed by famed Western scout Christopher “Kit” Carson, congratulating a friend who recently quit drinking and offering to buy him a claim amidst a growing ‘gold fever’, sold for $47,800. Another gold rush artifact drawing intense bidder interest was a relic brooch containing the first piece of gold flake discovered by James Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, touching off the legendary California Gold Rush. Marshall had the gold specimen set into the brooch as a gift for his newborn niece Abigail, and it remained in the hands of her family until consigned for auction by Heritage.
Among the exemplary American political memorabilia up for bids, the finest known specimen of an 1864 brass jugate badge, featuring tiny tintype photographs of Abraham Lincoln and his running mate Andrew Johnson and considered a ‘holy grail’ among political pinback collectors, sold for $56,762.50. A racist broadside, designed to railroad Lincoln’s 1864 reelection campaign sold for $35,850 and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s personally-owned pocket watch, likely a wedding gift holding a photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt, sold for $27,485.
The auction featured over 50 items formerly owned and used by President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford, consigned by the family to benefit the new Student Learning Center at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. The consignment raised over $100,000 for this worthy cause. President Ford was among the best-known presidential golfers, so it comes as no surprise that his well-used personal set of clubs drew the most attention, selling for $26,180. Perhaps more surprising was Betty’s purse by famed designer Judith Leiber, which fetched $7140 against a pre-sale estimate of $400+.
Additional highlights include but are not limited to:
Edward S. Curtis' vintage goldtone photograph "Before the Storm" sold for $27,485.
A United States flag, with 130 stars and the words July 4th 1865 embroidered on the fifth red stripe sold for $23,900.
An 1880 subpoena signed by W.B. “Bat” Masterson as the Sherriff of Dodge City sold for $21,510.
An impeccably provenance autograph of Geronimo, the notorious Apache leader, sold for $16,730.