Documents signed by Abraham Lincoln go on sale at Sotheby's

Copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment will go to auction


On Wednesday, Sotheby’s will offer two unique lots, both bearing Abraham Lincoln’s signature, in a sale titled Two Centuries of American History: Highly Important Letters and Documents.

The auction features a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation—the important Civil War document that  “order[ed] and declare[d] that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are and henceforward shall be free”—that was originally sold in 1864 to raise money for the Union cause.

The sale also includes a copy of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed the practice of slavery in 1865.

Both documents are key to the history of the Civil War (1861-65), which remains the deadliest war in US history. They are also fundamental aspects of the presidential policy of the 16th president, who was assassinated shortly after the end of the war and remains in the American memory as "the great emancipator." (Schoolchildren are sometimes taught to memorise the Emancipation Proclamation.)

The Sotheby's Emancipation Proclamation is one of 27 known original copies, 19 of which are in institutions, and is estimated to sell for $1.5-2m. The Thirteenth Amendment is one of only 14 copies, and is estimated to sell for $2-3m.