Star Spangled Banner Sells for Record Auction Price at Christie's
A rare first edition of America's national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, sold at auction today at Christie's for $506,500 (including the buyer's premium), setting a record price for any sheet music sold at auction. The pre-sale estimate for the lot was $200,000 to $300,000.
Composed by poet Francis Scott Key during the evening of September 13, 1814, the sheet music was offered as part of Christie's "Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana" sale at its headquarters at Rockefeller Plaza in New York.
According to Chris Coover, senior specialist in books and manuscripts at Christie's in New York, the buyer is an American private collector. "It shows what an icon of American patriotism the Star Spangled Banner really is," says Coover.
The sellers are two retired Pennsylvania antique dealers who bought the sheet music as part of an album in 1989 for $50. The dealers only later realized the significance of what was contained in the album.
According to Coover, there are only eleven copies still in existence, including this one, though, until recently, it wasn't well known that this one even existed. "It is the only one still in private hands with all others owned by institutions," says Coover. "It is quite a rarity."
Gallery: Star Spangled Banner
The last copy sold at auction was in 1967, by Sotheby's in New York. "It sold for $23,000, which was a record price for the time," says Coover. That copy was bought by a private individual and gifted to a foundation. It is now owned by Wesleyan University in Connecticut. "That was the last chance anyone had to acquire one until now," says Coover. "Forty-three years is a long time to wait."
Second editions of the song have recently sold at auction, says Coover. While later editions may also be rare, they are not as interesting, as important or as valuable as first editions, he adds. A second edition sold for $15,000 in December 2002. One unique feature of the first edition is that it contains a noticeable misspelling. "Carr was in such a hurry to rush this into print that he worked carelessly and misspelled the word patriotic," says Coover, pointing out that Carr listed it as pariotic (see gallery above). "Carr also omitted Francis Scott Key's name as poet."
In addition to first edition that is owned by Wesleyan University, the other copies are owned by the Library of Congress, Indiana University, Maryland Historical Society, New York Public Library, The Pierpont Morgan Library, Johns Hopkins University Library, White House, University of Michigan and the Moravian Music Foundation.
Other items that sold above their estimates at the auction today include several lots featuring Winston Churchill memorabilia from the personal collection belonging to publishing mogul Malcolm "Steve" Forbes. A typed quotation signed by Churchill sold for $12,500 (including buyer's premium), above the pre-sale estimate of $3,500 to $5,000. A typed draft letter to Josef Stalin that was signed by Churchill sold for $50,000 (including buyer's premium) above its pre-sale estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. A black and white photograph signed by Churchill as Prime Minister and Harry S. Truman as President, aboard the U.S.S. Williamsburg on January 5, 1952 sold for $35,000 (including buyer's premium), which was well above its pre-sale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.
An extremely rare map (see gallery above for image), which is America's first map, sold for $2,098,500, setting a world record for a map sold at auction. The map, entitled A New and Correct Map of the United States of North America Layd Down from the Latest Observations and Best Authorities Agreeable to the Peace of 1783 was created by Abel Buell in 1784. The hand-colored engraved map on four joined sheets (image 43 x 48 1/4 inches; sheet 45 1/4 x 50 3/4 inches) is inscribed to the Governor of Connecticut and signed by Abel Buell in 1784. Its pre-sale estimate was $500,000 to $700,000.