The Ups and Downs of Collecting – June 9, 2009

FDR Button Goes for $15,000- Rare 1920 Cox-Roosevelt button sold!


The Ups and Downs of Collecting

June 9, 2009

Richard J. Garfunkel


Speaking of collecting, as an accumulator of various items over the years, Wedgwood, British Commemorative China, FDR memorabilia, toy soldiers, magazines, newspapers, stamps, glassware, and assorted other things, I pay attention, now and again, to the market. This was a big story over the past few days. But I can recall that about 25+ years ago when this same style button became available (there are about 7-12 around I believe) there was another bidding war. At that time the late Malcolm Forbes Sr. was adding to his Forbes Museum on 5th Avenue and 13th Street. He already had a fabulous Faberge collection of eggs and other Czarist and royal accoutrement, an unprecedented fleet of toy boats, a remarkable collection of toy soldiers (beside his main collection in Algeciras, Tangiers, (across from Gibraltar in a castle he owned) and his own artifacts from his WWII service. My business was located at 23 W. 18th Street, so I often walked over during lunch to gaze at his treasures.


In the 1980’s I believe, he decided to put together a great political collection, and he acquired a photograph of Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad. He paid a record amount for a photo. I just saw that a Lincoln and Tad photo taken by Anthony Berger is available at auction for between $1,000 and 2,000. As I recall Forbes paid over $100,000 for a small Mathew Brady print of Lincoln and Tad. But after fruitlessly looking for the exact amount on Google, I gave up. Maybe the figure was a bit inflated, but at the time it was a world record for a photograph. Times have changed a bit, and the world’s record for a photo of $3.34 million was set at an art sale for Andreus Gursky’s “99 cent II Dyptich” in February of 2007. The next highest was Edward Steichen’s 1907 photo, “pond Moonlight” which fetched $2.98 million in February of 2006. February seems to be the time to get out your old albums and hustle them off to Park-Bernet or Sotheby’s.   


Forbes decided that he wanted a copy of the rare and famous James Cox-Franklin Delano Roosevelt- 1920 “jugate.” A “jugate” in political memorabilia “lingo” is a button representing the two heads of a presidential ticket (Jugate = jugs or heads.)  In the same way, “trigate” is a button with the presidential aspirant, his running mate, and a third individual, usually a governor or a senator that is hoping to cling to the ticket’s coattails. He got himself into a bidding war with Judge Joseph M. Jacobs of Illinois, who had the greatest political items collection in America. Jacobs loved FDR and at the heart of his collection was a massive FDR collection that included just about everything from press releases to buttons. As I recall when the bidding got to $50,000 even the super-rich multi-millionaire dropped out. It was too rich for even his blood. I just spent a couple of hours looking for the article describing the bidding war between Judge Jacobs and Malcolm Forbes, but to no avail. But I did find the APIC Keynoter, volume 83, a dual issue of Spring/Summer 1983 which illustrates practically all of the myriads of FDR political items. Unfortunately there was nothing describing the button’s worth. Most of the massive paper collection was donated to the library of the University of Illinois-Chicago, where it was catalogued and used by scholars over the years. At Judge Jacobs’ death, his button collection was put on auction and it was eventually dispersed to many, many collectors.


By the way when the senior Forbes died in 1990 his Tangiers collections was sold by his family to the government of Morocco. In February 2004, Russian billionaire, Victor Vekselberg purchased nine of the Fabergé eggs from the Forbes publishing family in New York City. The collection was transported to Russia and exhibited in the Kremlin and in Dubrovnik in 2007. Vekselberg is the single largest owner of these eggs in the world, owning 15 of them (11 Imperial, two Kelch, and two other). Later it was reported that he bought the whole Faberge collection (500 pieces or so) for $100 million.


I am sure that one of my good friends will supply me with some of the answers that are still left unresolved. Eventually I will find the auction catalogue and do a follow-up regarding the FDR button. But in the mean time the price of this button seemed to have collapsed over the years. As to the picture of Lincoln, that question also has to be resolved.


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