When it comes to Presidential U.S. history, collectors jump at any chance to purchase a special piece of memorabilia. Over the years, countless treasures have sold for record-high numbers, from signed documents to guns to license plates, and sometimes it seems as if there is a never-ending supply of artifacts to choose from. But not all mementos are equal and the below five items (plus an additional one that isn't made of paper) are the most expensive to ever sell.
George Washington’s Acts of Congress
Christie’s sold President Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the First Congress at auction in 2012 for $9.8 million. The buyers were the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, a non-profit organization that owns the museum at Washington’s Virginia home. Featuring his signature and personal annotations on the Constitution, the item’s sale is one of the most expensive books to ever sell at auction (Leonardo da Vinci’s $30.8 million Codex Leicester has it beat).
Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation
In 1864, our 16th POTUS signed 48 copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and now, only 25 are still accounted for. Though most of these existing documents are kept in museums, one previously owned by Robert F. Kennedy popped up at a Sotheby’s auction in 2010 and sold for $3.7 million.
Abraham Lincoln’s Slave Letter
In 1864, the Commander-in-Chief received a letter written by 195 American children, pleading with him to free all of the child slaves in the country. Though it was common at the time for his staff to respond to most of the incoming letters, the president took it upon himself to respond, writing: "Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust that they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it." His response sold in a 2008 Sotheby’s auction for $3.4 million.
Abraham Lincoln’s Election Speech
This autographed manuscript of Lincoln’s election victory speech in 1864 fetched $3.4 million at a 2009 Christie’s auction. Delivered from a White House window two days after he was elected for the second time, the famous words span four pages and feature many annotations from the man himself.
George Washington’s Constitution Letter
President Washington wrote this four-page letter to his nephew Bushrod Washington in 1787 and according Christie’s, it had been in the hands of an anonymous British descendent before selling in 2009 for $3.2 million. The letter talks about his support of the Constitution, the states becoming one nation and how compromise is key.
Honorable Mention: George Washington’s Saddle Pistols
Originally given to the President by French ally Marquis de Lafayette, these 18th century pistols stuck with the POTUS for the entire Revolutionary War. With gold inlays and rococo carvings, the steel-mounted guns ended up being passed on to President Andrew Jackson who kept them for most of his life, only to return them to Washington’s family. Christie’s sold them in 2002 for $1.9 million to the Richard Kick Mellon Foundation, who bought them for the Fort Ligonier site and museum near Pittsburg.