Basketball Rules, Custer's Flag and the Emancipation Proclamation Cross The Block At Sotheby's
This week at Sotheby's wrapped up with a sale that included three remarkable treasures. Sotheby's Vice Chairman David Redden presided over the salesroom as the Kennedy-Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation, Custer's Last Flag: The Culbertson Guidon from the Battle of the Little Bighorn and James Naismith's Founding Rules of Basketball came across the auction block in chronological order. Shown above former Harlem Globetrotters basketball player Curly Neal spins a ball on his finger tip before the bidding for the Naismith Rules, the original rules for basketball, framed at right, at Sotheby's in New York on Friday.
Robert F. Kennedy's copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, set a new auction record for any presidential document when it sold for $3,778,500, more than double its pre-sale high estimate. The winning bid was cast by an anonymous telephone bidder who wishes to remain anonymous. The Emancipation Proclamation is one of only twenty-five copies of the document known to survive, of which eighteen are in institutional collections. Robert F. Kennedy bought the document in 1964.
Two bidders competed for Custer's Last Flag: The Culbertson Guidon from the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which sold to an American collector. The flag was consigned by the Detroit Institute of Art, where it had not been on view since 1928. It was estimated that it could bring in $5 million but it sold for $2,210,500 at auction. The proceeds, which can only be used to purchase art, will go towards acquiring Native American works. The swallow-tail flag was hidden under the body of a dead trooper and discovered three days after George Custer's famed Battle of the Little Bighorn by Sergeant Ferdinand Culbertson, who was assigned to a burial party. It is the only flag flown by Custer's battalion known not to have been captured by Indian combatants after the Battle. The museum had bought the flag for just $54.
Saving the best for last, James Naismith's Founding Rules of Basketball did particularly well. After several minutes of intense bidding, the two-page document comprising a set of 13 rules to a new game invented by James Naismith in 1891 sold for $4,338,500, more than double the pre-sale estimate of $2 million and a new record for any piece of sports memorabilia ever sold at auction. James Naismith's Founding Rules of Basketball were purchased by David and Suzanne Booth, who hope to bring them to the University of Kansas. According to Sotheby's Mr. Booth is an alumnus of the University of Kansas and he and his wife were inspired to bid by lifelong Kansas basketball fan Josh Swade. Over the last few weeks, Swade sought a deep-pocketed investor to help bring the Rules to Kansas, where Naismith spent the last 41 years of his life and is buried. The rules were sold by the Naismith family and the proceeds of the sale will go towards the Naismith International Basketball Foundation.