SOLD! The Print of President Theodore Roosevelt Dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A 1903 print commemorating a dinner President Theodore Roosevelt hosted for Booker T. Washington at the White House.

Update: The 1903 print of Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House sold for $2,250.

What you see: A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier. Heritage Auctions estimates it could sell for $2,000 or more.

The expert: Curtis Lindner, associate director of Americana at Heritage Auctions.

How did the dinner come about? Why did it make sense for President Theodore Roosevelt to invite Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House in 1901? Roosevelt was not the first president to invite African-Americans to the White House, but Booker T. Washington was the first to be invited to dine at the White House. Washington was an advisor to Roosevelt.

What did Booker T. Washington advise President Theodore Roosevelt on? He advised him on horrible things happening to African-Americans, and wanted to get them more rights. That was a reason to invite him to dinner–to discuss voting rights in the South. Roosevelt probably had it in his mind that he wanted to run for president in 1905. Having Washington talk about voting for Roosevelt was very important. He was also a good friend of Roosevelt as well.

When did the two men become friends? Probably when Roosevelt was vice president. And when Roosevelt was governor of New York, he had invited African-Americans to the governor’s mansion, and had invited them to stay overnight. That didn’t become national news because he was a governor. When he did it as president, there was an uproar in the South. There are graphic quotes. The n-word was used extensively. Horrible things were said [along the lines of]–‘How dare he defame the White House by inviting him to dinner,’ and ‘How dare he dine with Roosevelt’s wife and white children.’ [Roosevelt had three sons and a daughter at the time.]

Was the uproar in all of the South? A majority. U.S. Senators and Congressmen made these comments. It seemed to be acceptable at the time.

How did the Northern states react? A lot of Northerners did support it. It was primarily the South, and a lot of Southern politicians, that didn’t like it at all.

Did the White House announce the dinner before it happened, or after? The White House announced it, from what I understand, after the dinner. Washington was up there for some sort of conference, and Roosevelt sent him a telegram inviting him to the White House. I don’t know if Roosevelt expected an uproar.

It sounds like it was spontaneous. Yes, it was more of a spontaneous thing. It was not fancy. It was just Booker T. Washington and Roosevelt’s family. And there were other people there–servants coming through as well. This is a “pro” print. It’s in support of the Roosevelt-Washington dinner. There are “con” buttons that depict Washington in caricature, and with bottles of liquor on the table, as if they were getting drunk. Those can sell for several hundred dollars, as well as the “pro”. There are also two versions of the “pro” print–one where the tablecloth says “Equality”, and one where it doesn’t. Both have the image of Lincoln between Roosevelt and Washington.

Yes, now that I look more closely at the print, there’s no hint of alcohol. No glasses are on the table, and maybe that’s a water carafe in the foreground? Absolutely. The “con” image is different from the “pro” buttons and the “pro” print. Washington has larger, curlier hair, and there’s no Lincoln between them. The juxtaposition is so interesting between the “con” image and the “pro” print.

The lot notes describe the dinner as a “public relations mistake Roosevelt never repeated.” What made the dinner a public relations mistake? After the uproar, the White House backpedaled a little, claiming it was a lunch. It was at 8 pm at night. It was not a lunch. The White House [might have said to Roosevelt] ‘We have a perception problem, Mister President.’ It was bad publicity for the president and the government in the eyes of many, especially in the South. I’m sure it took some time for this to go away. And Roosevelt never invited another African-American to dine at the White House. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have them over to visit, but there were no dinners or lunches. He probably didn’t want to deal with more controversy.

The dinner took place in 1901, but the print is dated 1903. What accounts for the two-year lag between the event and the publication of the print? I don’t have a definitive answer. What comes to mind is in late 1903 and early 1904, Roosevelt started running for president. Could he be trying to look good to the African-American population? On the other hand, would he want to remind the white American South about how mad they were when an African-American was in the White House? I don’t have a definitive answer. I could see how [a printer] would put it out a month after the dinner, but why two years after? Why wait those two years?

Well, in the middle of the 20th century, a lot of Irish Catholic homes displayed a photograph of President John F. Kennedy alongside the Pope. Could this print of President Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington have served the same sort of cultural role in African-American homes? That’s a good point. That could very well be why.

So, who would have been the audience for this print? Middle-class African-Americans? I would think it would be more for the African-American community. It’s a very flattering print of two brilliant men sitting down to eat. It was probably a coveted print that hung in a home next to a print of Abraham Lincoln.

Did you find any evidence that this could have been printed by a press that also offered an African-American newspaper? I could not find any information about that.

Is it possible that the Republican Party, or a local Republican group, might have commissioned the print to support Roosevelt’s 1905 campaign? I don’t think so at all.

And I take it this is a fanciful rendering of the dinner? There probably wasn’t a print of Abraham Lincoln hanging in the room where they ate? We do not know if there was an image of Lincoln in the room, but it was smart for the artist to add it. I’m sure he put it there with a lot of thought behind it. But there’s no actual photo or drawing of them having dinner. There was no White House photographer then. The images of Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington’s faces were used in other memorabilia. What you see is an artist’s rendition of what the dinner might have been like.

Yeah, the faces of the men look like they were lifted from two different photographs. Exactly. They [the artist or the printer] found other images and used the faces for this purpose.

It’s odd that Roosevelt and Washington aren’t looking at each other. It is strange. The artist could have had them looking at each other. Why he didn’t, I don’t know.

What condition is the print in? There’s some damage to it, some edge roughness, but this is overall a good example. The majority of examples have some condition issues–the print is 116 years old, and it’s ephemeral by nature.

Do we have any notion of how many of these prints were made, and how many survive? We’ve sold four examples, the highest for $5,250 in June 2018. I’ve probably seen 15 to 20 examples. I’m sure it was made in some quantity.

Why will this print stick in your memory? To me, I think, it shows we can look past our differences. Roosevelt was a great man who saw he could take advice from African-Americans and treat them equally. This print makes me think we have a chance in thus country to all get along.

How to bid: The 1903 print of Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington in the White House is lot #43316 in The David and Janice Frent Collection, Presidential and Political Americana, Part VI auction, taking place at Heritage Auctions on September 21 – 22, 2019.

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SOLD! The George Ohr Vase Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

An exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim by George Ohr, dating to 1897 to 1900.

Update: The George Ohr vase sold for $10,625.

What you see: An exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim by George Ohr, the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” dating to 1897 to 1900. Rago estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: David Rago of Rago Arts and Auctions.

How prolific was George Ohr? He made about 10,000 pots during his career, from about 1885 to about 1909. Because the work was virtually unsaleable, most of it survived. Because the work was often paper-thin, much of it has minor damage. The entire body of work was stored away in Biloxi, some in the private homes of relatives, and the rest held by his surviving son. That, in and of itself, is a great story.

What makes this an “exceptional large vase” by Ohr, per the lot notes? What’s a more typical size for him? And specifically, what makes it “exceptional”? Ohr tended to work in “hand-sized” pots, as I like to call them. Four inches by four inches is typical. It seemed he could manipulate a pot uniformly, in integrated gestures, to complete something original and in the moment. He was very much an artist who worked with the flow the material–spinning clay, of a very elastic variety–and his own creative impulse. There is an immediacy to his best work, which is why it has captured the attention of collectors, artists, gallerists, and museums since 1970, when it was first put out on the open market. The vase in question is much larger than most and has two complicated handles. These tall, handled pots are a subset of his work that have remained among the more highly regarded this last half-century.

How often did Ohr create vases? Was that a favorite form of his? Is it a form that Ohr collectors prefer? One man, one pot. He dug the clay from a local river, wheelbarrowed to his Pot-Ohr-E, which he build with his own hands from the ground up, including the kiln. He threw on a wheel, endeavored to make “no two pots alike”, like human souls, and devoted his life to making truly unique work that no one wanted to buy.

Is ‘Pot-Ohr-E’ his term, or a whimsical term of your invention? His. “Mary had a little lamb.  George had a Pot-Ohr-E.”

The George Ohr vase is described as having ‘ear handles’. What are ear handles, and how often do they appear in his work? A small percentage of Ohr’s work had paired handles–unlike pitchers, say, which had one handle for pouring. Of the 10,000 pieces he produced, less than one percent received this treatment. I say this based on what I’ve actually seen [which is] about half his body of work, since 1973 when I handled my first piece, and period photos of him and his wares.

The George Ohr vase is described as having a ‘serrated rim’. How often does that feature appear in his work? Far less than one percent of the time. It’s not a decorative technique I think particularly interesting. The handles are the main point here. The pot itself is fairly straightforward, and the brown/green glaze is typical of much of his work.

How do all these elements–vase form, ear handles, serrated rim, ochre and gunmetal-speckled in color, large size–affect its appeal to collectors? Is it rare to have all these things in one Ohr piece? Any pot by Ohr this size with large double handles is quite rare and elevates it in the minds of collectors, both in stature and price, to the top ten percent of his production.

Is this vase unique? With rare exceptions, all of his work is unique. That was his fundamental approach, that art should occur in the moment, through an artist’s connection with his or her spirit, manifest in the craft. I don’t know that he actually worded it this way, but he spoke of souls and God, and it’s clear he was trying to capture something larger than to just make a pottery vase.

Did Ohr intend his vases to be functional, or purely sculptural? Are they meant to be used? He gave them functions, but I think that was just a starting point. For example, he made a double coffee/teapot where you poured coffee from the right and tea from the left. The lids were fused to it in the firing, so it didn’t actually function. I can’t speak for the man, but I’m sure he did not intend for these to actually be used to hold flowers or potables.

Would Ohr have created this vase entirely on his own, or would he have relied on assistants for certain parts of the production? Very few pieces of Ohr were done in any capacity by anyone but Ohr. He did have an assistant for a brief time, a Mr. Portman, whose initials have appeared on some pieces. He also worked with the famed potter Susan Frackelton, whose name [or] initials also appear on such pots. But 99 percent of the time, you buy a piece of Ohr, you’re buying Ohr’s hand.

How do we know this is an Ohr? Are fakes a problem with Ohr ceramics? There are a lot of fakes. His work has been augmented and copied by various people since the mid-1970s. The way to know a fake is to know Ohr’s work. If you’re buying this stuff online, on eBay, or from someone who is not a known expert in Ohr, it can be a rough ride. 

What sorts of Ohr fakes have been identified? The earliest fakes were in fact Ohr pieces, but ones he only bisque-fired and never glazed. Early sellers, thinking this work incomplete, and knowing it was hard to sell back in the 1970s, augmented them with glazing of their own. The next run of fakes were made from the ground up, with pieces usually of red clay and jet black glazing, rolled out and turned into hollowware vessels. These bore entirely the block stamp mark, which the fakers recreated using printer’s type, as Ohr did originally. Then came the absurd fakes, about mid- to late 1980s, which were dreadful pieces having nothing to do with Ohr’s work. Imagine, if you would, a piece of pottery that looks like a tree branch. Whatever mark was on the bottom of it was covered with plaster and “Ohr” crudely etched into it. As though that wasn’t stupid enough, that particular faker then spray-painted part of the work in day-glo colors.

George Ohr made this vase between 1897 and 1900. Was that a strong period for him? This is arguably his best period. He was still glazing pots at this time. He later switched to bisque fire only–“God put no color in souls, and I’ll put no color on my pots”–but was also at his creative peak in manipulation and overall concept of what he pieces could be. That is definitely his power alley period.

How have you seen the Ohr market change over time, in general? Mostly up, though with peaks and valleys.  We are not at a high point, but close to that level, in today’s market.

The 2011 description says the vase has “ribbon handles” and a “ripped rim”. Why might the language that describes these details changed between then and now? Just a different cataloguer at this point in time.  They are both correct in their way.

How does this Ohr vase compare to other Ohr vases you’ve had? I don’t want to damn it with faint praise. If this were a truly exceptional two-handled piece, the glaze would be red with orange and blue spots, the vase would have an in-body twist at its center, and it would be worth maybe seven to ten times the price.

What’s the world auction record for a piece by George Ohr? Sotheby’s sold a pot for 130,000 at auction in 2006. I sold a piece privately for about 150k about the same time.

What is it like to hold this vase in your hands? What is it like in person?Most are much lighter than you would expect, the fragility being an extension of the ephemeral nature of being human, I would surmise. If you were to handle a later bisque piece, it would be as though you were handling a large potato chip. The thinness of the work results from the local clay he developed and his unparalleled prowess at the potter’s wheel.

Rago sold this vase in June 2011 for $6,820 against an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000. What does it say about the Ohr market that it’s up again eight years later with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000? Ohr is one of the few potters from the art pottery period whose work has retained value and even, in some cases, gone up.  That is because of an international market for the material, and the crossover to fine art buyers who recognize his importance as an artist.

How to bid: The George Ohr vase is lot 116 in the Early 20th Century Design auction at Rago on September 21, 2019.

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David Rago has appeared on The Hot Bid several times before, speaking about a super-tall Wally Bird, a record-setting unique ceramic tile by Frederick Hurten Rhead, a Paul Evans cabinet, and a René Lalique vase.

Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (OOMA) in Biloxi, Mississippi is devoted to Ohr and his work. (O’Keefe is the name of the family who made a major donation to the museum.) It has posted an online exhibit of Ohr pottery.

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WOW! The B.B. King Lucille Guitar Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien's estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

Update: The prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King, sold for $280,000–well above its estimate.

What you see: A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien’s estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

So, let’s start by explaining the deal with Lucille. How many Lucilles did B.B. King have over the course of his career? Is there an official count? There’s no official count, but we know there were many. Lucille dates back to 1949, when he was in his 20s and playing a venue in Arkansas. It was heated by a bucket of kerosene. A fight broke out between two men, and the kerosene was kicked over and started a fire. B.B. King realized he’d left his guitar behind, a very inexpensive Gibson arch top, and ran into the burning building and got it out. He found out that the fight was over a woman called Lucille.

And B.B. King named that guitar and all his subsequent main guitars Lucille as a reminder not to do something silly like run into a burning building to save a guitar? And to never fight over a woman.

So B.B. King had many Lucilles over the years, and not all looked the same, but what are the characteristics of a Lucille? What do most of us think of when we think of his guitar, Lucille? When you talk about what’s recognized as a Lucille, it’s black with gold hardware, and it’s a Gibson ES-345 guitar. It probably dates back to 1967, when he shifted his affection to the Gibson 345. That’s a luxurious model, a high-end guitar, very fitting for the king of the blues, B. B. King.

There are several Lucilles in the September 21 auction, but this particular one has the highest estimate of all. What makes this B.B. King Lucille guitar that much more valuable than the others? It’s a prototype, made for his 80th birthday. It was prototype one. He played it for the rest of his life. His last performance, in 2014, was with this particular guitar. It was one he cherished, and it was so beautifully done, customized for him to celebrate his 80th birthday. [King died in 2015, at the age of 89.]

And it became his main guitar from the time he received it from Gibson? Yes. This was his main guitar. He cherished it. There always seems to be a story to Lucille–this one was stolen from him in 2009, and he was devastated. It showed up in a pawn shop [later in 2009] in Las Vegas. A guitar dealer found it, sweaty, with broken strings, and with “prototype one guitar” on the back. He contacted Gibson, which put him in contact with B.B. King. He was very happy to be reunited with the Lucille guitar. He traded [a different guitar] to the dealer, saying, “I hope you enjoy playing this as much as I enjoy playing this prototype guitar.”

Does the fact that the B.B. King Lucille guitar was stolen and recovered make it more interesting to collectors? Its intrinsic value is $8,000 to $10,000, let’s say. I think the John Lennon Gibson we sold for $2.4 million had an intrinsic value of $2,000. That was stolen at a Christmas show in 1963. People loved the story, and it definitely played into it selling for $2.4 million.

A closeup of the lavishly decorated neck of the B.B. King Lucille guitar.

Do we know how many concerts B.B. King played with this Lucille? It would have been in the hundreds. He worked tirelessly. In his heyday, he played over 300 concerts a year. He came from very humble beginnings and he strived to become famous. When he got to a plateau in his career he never wanted to let go of that. He enjoyed playing music.

Does the September 21 sale represent the first time any B.B. King-owned and -stage played Lucille guitars have gone to auction? It’s the first time B.B. King has gone to auction with any of his guitars. It’s coming directly from his home to the auction block. That’s where the value is–the provenance, the chain of ownership, collectors love that. Being the next owner after the celebrity adds huge value.

What condition is the B.B. King Lucille guitar in? There’s no one area I’d say is worn down. It’s a heavy-duty guitar, a beauty of a guitar, but you can look at it and see it’s not pristine. There are little scratches that indicate it’s not a brand new guitar.

Have you played the B.B. King Lucille guitar? I have not, but I’ve held it many times. It’s amazing.

Is it well-balanced? It’s very well-balanced. It’s a very, very heavy guitar. For me to carry it for a period of time, it’s a challenge. I have handled many, many guitars, and this one stands out as being particularly heavy.

Is the B.B. King Lucille guitar solid? Semi-solid.

Would its weight have affected its sound? Yes, it definitely affects the sound. That’s why he liked it. He collaborated with Gibson on the guitar and definitely, the weight impacted the sound. That was important to B.B. King as a bluesman.

A closeup on the body of the B.B. King Lucille guitar, showing the decorative crown and the bluesman's signature, rendered in gold on gold.

What is your favorite detail on this B.B. King Lucille guitar? The gold inlay, the crown representing the king, his signature in gold on it–it’s just a beautiful instrument.

How to bid: The stage-played prototype B.B. King Lucille guitar is lot 543 in Property from the Estate of B.B. King, talking place at Julien’s Auctions on September 21, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade JFK; the first TCB necklace given away by Elvis Presley, a purple Prince-worn tunic that the star donned for a 1998 BET interview, which yielded a famous GIF; a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

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RECORD! A Peter Hujar Portrait of David Wojnarowicz Commands $106,250 at Swann

Peter Hujar's black and white print, David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III), features his friend and mentee. David Wojnarowicz, looking directly at the camera with a moody, faintly sultry expression.

What you see: David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III), a 1985 silver print by Peter Hujar. Estimated at $15,000 to $25,000, it commanded $106,250 and a new auction record for Hujar during the first Pride Sale at Swann Auction Galleries on June 20, 2019.

The expert: Deborah Rogal, associate director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

Is his name pronounced HOO-jar? Yes.

How often do Peter Hujar photographs come to auction? I would consider them rare. As his work becomes more recognizable by collectors, more will come to the market. About 15 to 20 per year reach the auction market and they attract a lot of attention when they do.

How many prints did he typically make of an image? As far as I know, Hujar did apply edition numbers to his prints, but “four of 15” didn’t mean “four of 15.” It meant he was happy with the print, and generated interest in the print by adding a number. Photography is a young market, and at that time [the photograph dates to 1985], it was incredibly young. There was awareness among photographers of numbering in the print market, but it was not applied. He was not unique in that sense.

How many copies of David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III) did he make? As far as we know, this is one of three examples of this image.

Do you know where the other two are? I don’t.

Was this the first print of the three to go to auction? There have been other images of David Wojnarowicz by Hujar at auction, but not this particular image.

Did Peter Hujar typically sign and date his photographs? Typically, yes, but not as a rule.

How involved was he in the process of printing his photos? Did he usually do most or all of the darkroom work? I believe he did do most or all of his own work. Part of the mentorship with David Wojnarowicz involved working in the darkroom together.

Was David Wojnarowicz involved with the production of this particular silver print? I couldn’t say with authority whether it could be true. If it is true, it’s impossible to prove.

Do we know how many portraits Peter Hujar took of David Wojnarowicz? He made several well-known portraits of Wojnarowicz. It was an incredibly close relationship. There are many images.

Are Hujar’s portraits of Wojnarowicz sought after? The result demonstrates that they are. Both are sought-after artists. [The photo] represents a rare opportunity to acquire an object that represents both of them. Hujar was known for taking portraits of figures of the downtown art scene. This is a stellar example of that type of image.

Do we know why Hujar named this photograph David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III) ? I don’t. The title was supplied, in this case, by his estate.

The lot notes say this photograph went from the artist to the collector to you. Is that a typical trajectory for a Hujar? Yes. Much Hujar material we see coming to the market doesn’t have a long [provenance] history at all. The work has been held in collections by the first owners. Some were friends or colleagues of Hujar.

The portrait photograph measures 19 3/4 inches by 15 3/4 inches. Is that considered large for Hujar? If it is large, did that fact play a role in the final price? Many of his photographs are on a sheet like this. In the larger photographic market, it [oversize photographs] are often a factor. But much of his work has the same presentation. I don’t think the size was a factor in this case.

What is it like in person? Are there details that the camera doesn’t pick up? We do our best to capture the depth and lustrous qualities in the catalog, but nothing compares to seeing a print like this in person. Hujar is very subtle, very elegant, very rich. This has deep, velvety blacks and it’s rather moody. There’s a lot of detail in the lighter grey and white values. It’s so much more stunning in person. His work is characterized by sensuality–he draws it out of the figures he photographs. It’s one reason why [his work] is so prized by collectors today.

What was the previous auction record for a Hujar? It was set in 2015 at Christie’s by Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1973. It sold for $50,000.

What was your role in the auction on the day of the sale? The Pride Auction involved almost all the departments at Swann. Sale day was all hands on deck. It was a really exciting moment. Most of the staff worked the phones. I think the whole room was holding its breath watching the phones battle it out [to see who would win the Hujar].

How was the photograph chosen for the Pride Sale? We were actively looking for material for the sale throughout the entire season. The Pride Sale was the right context for the work.

Does the creation of the Pride Sale predate the consignment of the Hujar photo? As I recall, yes, it did. We worked on the sale for quite some time.

Does Swann have plans to hold another Pride Sale? We do plan to hold another next year.

How did the context of the Pride Sale affect the final result? Would the Hujar photograph have done as well in a standard photography sale? I do think the context is really important to the work. The Pride Sale tells a specific story, and helped it [the photograph] gain a level of attention. I have no way of knowing [if it would do as well in a standard photography sale], but I hope so. The quality of the work and its rarity are very high.

Were you surprised that it sold for $106,250? I was. I think we all were very happily surprised at the results.

So you weren’t expecting it to break six figures? I was not. It was pretty stunning. I think everyone in the room was surprised. We knew how important Peter Hujar’s work is, and how stunning it is. It’s the moment we wait for–when something like this just takes off, it’s thrilling.

How long do you think this world auction record for Peter Hujar will stand? What else is out there that could beat it? One of the exciting and beautiful things about the auction market is you don’t know what will turn up tomorrow. I think the Hujar market will certainly grow as more collectors become aware of his work.

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Deborah Rogel spoke to The Hot Bid previously about a circa 1865 tintype of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.