A desk owned by General Robert E. Lee was the top lot of a day of robust bidding in Cowan’s June 9 American History Live Salesroom Auction. Selling for $32,400 (including the Buyer’s Premium), the Lee desk was one of eight lots to sell for more than $10,000 during the five-hour sale that saw over 600 collectors, dealers, and institutions bidding on 392 lots.
In addition to the lure of owning something that once belonged to the Civil War’s most famous general, the humble, drop-front desk has an impeccable provenance, which helped drive bidding past its estimate. At the time of the general’s death, Lee’s widow gifted the desk to his personal physician, Dr. Robert Madison, himself a descendent of President James Madison. Madison’s family passed the desk down for generations before consigning it to Cowan’s.
The auction also featured nine original works of art by Alfred R. Waud (1828-1891), who worked during the Civil War as a sketch artist for the New York Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly. The Library of Congress houses most of his original wartime sketches, making it very rare for his work to hit the market.
“Waud’s illustrations so rarely hit the market that it’s considered a special sale when even one comes up at auction,” said Katie Horstman, Cowan’s director of American History. “We had nine today, so needless to say we had overwhelming interest and the prices certainly reflect that.”
The top lot by Waud was a watercolor of Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson holding his battery to its work in an exposed position at the Battle of Gettysburg, which sold for $19,200.
As has come to be expected at a Cowan’s American History Auction, this sale featured an extraordinary collection of rare 19th century photography. This included the second highest sale price of the day, an exceptionally rare Wounded Knee Massacre and Pine Ridge Agency photo album, which sold for $26,400.
The album contains 52 boudoir-size albumen prints, most with credit in the negative to Northwestern Photo Co. of Chadron, Nebraska. It’s the most extensive Wounded Knee photo album ever handled by Cowan’s in its 20-plus years of business and contains several photographs Cowan’s experts have never seen in person, and some that were never published.
For more information on the auction and to view all prices realized, click here.