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PRESENTS:
A BASIC COURSE FOR
AUTOGRAPH COLLECTORS,
Part II

How To Read A Dealer’s Catalog Description

Always remember when a seller of autographs describes their item, they are trying their best to sell the item. It is up to you, the potential purchaser to read in between the lines and use common sense.

For example, let’s use a description for the sale of an automobile. This is something we can all relate to.

For Sale: 2009 Volkswagen Beetle, yellow in color, paint faded from the sun, cracked windshield, $450 worth of damage to front fender from a collision, blood stains on rear seat, crime scene tape still visible, rear bumper missing, spare tire missing otherwise like new.

How many of you after reading this description are not hysterical from laughing? We would bet not one of you will pick up the phone and call the seller.

It’s no different with advertising and cataloging in the autograph hobby.

We can refer to a 2010 auction held by RR Auctions in New Hampshire. Item #510 a Neil Armstrong TLS (typed letter signed). The following is RR Auctions catalog Description.

“TLS, clipped into three pieces, with one piece missing, one page, 8.5 x 11, University of Cincinnati letterhead, November 1, 1972. Letter to a gentleman forwarding copy to be used in a program. In part: “You are hereby authorized to reprint the following statement in your program book: May the 9th Annual Candy Cane Chairy [sic] Ball achieve its purpose: bringing space-age techniques and equipment to modern medicine….a winning combination.” In very good condition, with Armstrong’s signature clipped from the body of letter, paper loss to bottom edge, tape remnants above signature, tears and tape remnants to top edge and a pencil notation to body.”

If you were hysterical reading the VW ad you have to be nearly light headed from the RR description.

Think about this?

“clipped into three pieces”
“with one piece missing”
“with Armstrong’s signature clipped from body of letter”
“paper loss to bottom edge”
“tape remnant above signature”
“tears and tape remnants to top edge”
“and a pencil notation to body”.

An auction house whose been around 20 years then has their amateur cataloger state: “in very good condition.” Is this not shameful?

This is not an isolated incident. You can go to the story on this web site regarding the attempted sale of what the dealer claims is Beethoven’s hair. The closest provenance provided was that the wood frame which contained the hair was manufactured 20 years after the death of Beethoven. A frame which can even be purchased today in an antique shop.

The same dealer recently placed an item with an interesting description on their web site.

The seller is University Archives (many are familiar with the owner taking part in the selling of seven to eight million dollars worth of forged John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe autographs). Can you imagine how they were described?

Title: Abraham Lincoln
Number: 53094
Date: 1840
Place: Springfield, Il
Category: Presidential
Price: $325,000

Headline:
Abraham Lincoln’s 1840 Illinois State house desk, with significant documentation and attribution dating back to the 19th century.

Description:
An amazing bit of history - the desk used by Abraham Lincoln while a member of the House of Representatives for the State of Illinois.

The desk is accompanied by substantial provenance, including a letter from the Illinois State Historical Library at the Old State Capitol in Springfield. This letter, dated 1976, is from the curator of the Lincoln Collection, and states: “it is our opinion that the desk which you have was probably one used in the House of Representatives in the State House at Vandalia, Illinois, and was moved to Springfield in July 1839 when the state government was officially moved by Proclamation of the Governor. As the new Capitol Building was not yet finished, the legislature used a church building for the sessions…As Dr. Temple wrote you, the Graham mentioned in your history of the desk could be John G. Graham, a member of the Legislature from Fulton County from 1858-1864, and could have come into possession of the desk you have which could have been used in the State House at Vandalia, moved to Springfield, and used in the church until replaced in December 1840 when the legislature moved into the new building and had new desks.”

A letter from Lincoln scholar Wayne C. Temple in 1976 states: “My personal opinion is that your desk certainly came from the Illinois State legislature…I personally know of no other desk today which is claimed as Lincoln’s desk from his legislative days.”

Let’s dissect the above so-called substantial provenance.

“The desk is accompanied by substantial provenance, including a letter from the Illinois State historical Library…”

So the substantial provenance is the letter from the Lincoln scholar who states: “my personal opinion” his opinion but not actually stating the desk is Lincoln’s, “that your desk certainly came from the Illinois State Legislature” someone needs to ask this fellow how many other desks were in the Illinois State Legislature, then we have this that follows “…..” We would love to see what John Reznikoff left out, followed by “I personally know of no other desk today which is claimed as Lincoln’s desk from his legislative days.”

What we have here is there is no mention of how many desks were in the Illinois State legislature. Since no one else has claimed a desk to be Lincoln’s so why not this one?

This is the substantial provenance? Are you convinced?

Next this so-called provenance is accompanied by a letter from the Illinois State Historical Library at the Old State capitol in Springfield. The letter is from the Lincoln curator who specifically states: the desk which you have was PROBABLY one used in the House of Representatives.” He goes on to say: “the desk COULD be John G. Graham..” “and COULD have come into the possession of the desk you have which COULD have been used in the State House…”

Where’s the provenance…Probably, Could, Could, Could…….?

The only person describing this as Lincoln’s desk is the seller John Reznikoff. Is this wishful thinking?

Based on the above, always read catalog descriptions very carefully. Word of wisdom use common sense and know and understand the background of the seller.

 

 

 

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