A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation (Getty)
White Plains, NY (written by Robert Marchant/The Journal News) -- It cost $10 in 1864 to buy a document signed by President Lincoln that marked the end of slavery. It will cost quite a bit more to buy that document later this month -- well over $1 million or more.
A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, a souvenir edition endorsed by the president and Secretary of State William Seward in 1864 to raise funds for Union soldiers, will be put on the auction block June 26.
A White Plains, N.Y., dealer of historical artifacts, Seth Kaller, who has handled seven other copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, is marketing the printed sheet as "the document that saved America."
Lincoln's signature stands out boldly on the creamy white paper -- he always applied uncommonly strong pressure on a steel-tipped pen when writing his name. The document held special significance for Lincoln, who wrote it himself and said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper," just before he committed his signature to the original. Printed copies were made a year later and also individually signed.
"It's in relatively good condition, and the signature is particularly bold," Kaller said, looking over the paper in his office, which also contains a favorite chair of Lincoln's that allowed him to stretch out his 6-foot, 4-inch frame.
Kaller, a Scarsdale, N.Y., resident, said signed documents had an immediacy to them that was hard to match anywhere else. "There's something of an aura to these documents. You can't meet Abraham Lincoln or shake his hand, but you can hold a document that he held. And you know this document changed the world. The authenticity of the original, there's something about that, it really gives you a great sense of what was accomplished there."
The owner of the proclamation going on sale, whose identity Kaller will not reveal, has held it for the past 40 years. Kaller has publicly exhibited another copy of the proclamation to commemorate Juneteenth, a celebration of African-American heritage and the end of slavery.
The document contains little of the stirring language for which Lincoln was famous. It was written in precise legal terminology by the president, who was a lawyer, with a clearly limited scope. Lincoln was criticized by abolitionists at the time for his measured and compromising approach toward ending slavery.
"Lincoln was always very strategic about knowing how far he could go. He doesn't deserve criticism; he deserves admiration for knowing how to make it work," Kaller said.
When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it turned the war into a fight against slavery as well as the preservation of the Union. While the proclamation had little immediate effect, since it largely applied to territory that was still under control of Rebel armies, it hastened the end of slavery and explicitly permitted African-Americans to fight on the Union side, adding a much needed boost in manpower for the Northern cause.
The estimated value of the document is $1.8 to $2.4 million, a far cry from the original sale price of the commemorative prints that went on sale in Philadelphia in 1864. Even priced at $10, for a charitable cause to help fighting men in the field, they did not sell out.
"In its day, the Emancipation Proclamation was not a universally beloved document," said Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer. "It was a controversial document. Some of the lack of interest can be attributed to the fact that it was not the Holy Grail in 1864 -- it was still the subject of debate and anger."
Holzer, a Rye resident who recently authored a book on the document called "Emancipating Lincoln," said the signed proclamations held deep significance.
"It's unique and rare -- there were only 26 of them," he said, "It still has amazing resonance. That war and Lincoln's presidency are the defining moment in modern America. Anything that Lincoln touched -- much less anything that connects with what he called the greatest act of his presidency -- it is historically important, emotionally important."
The mystic chords of memory, in Lincoln's phrase, still unite one generation with another, stretching from a document signed in 1864 to this generation.
"President Obama has one of these in the White House," Holzer continued. "He brought some civil rights veterans in to see it. They were deeply moved by it, identifying it as a touchstone to modern freedom."
The June 26 auction, including the sale of stamps and other rarities, will take place at the Robert Siegel Auction Galleries in Manhattan.