A century after its original sale in Philadelphia, the document was purchased at an estate sale for $9,500 by then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who admired Lincoln.
Before its auction from the collection of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, it will return to the city for a public exhibit from noon to 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Library Company of Philadelphia at 1314 Locust St. The relic also will be shown at exhibits in Boston and New York.
"This is an opportunity for people to see this great document," said Kim Sajet, president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which has one of the copies in its collection and occasionally displays it. "It's fascinating that [Robert F. Kennedy] owned a copy and that he - like so many other people - was so intrigued by it. It stirs such emotion."
The history of the Lincoln proclamation and Kennedy's efforts to enforce civil rights legislation 100 years later adds to the document's value, collectors said.
Christie's sold four copies in 2001, 2002, and 2005 for prices ranging from $550,000 to $800,000. Four more have been purchased outside the auction world, where prices are confidential. The most recent was brokered by the Raab Collection in Philadelphia in 2009.
"What changes the conversation is that you get the sweep of history - from Lincoln to the civil rights struggle and work of Kennedy," said Nathan Raab, vice president of the Raab Collection and a member of the board of directors of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. "This was something Robert Kennedy cared about and cared to own.
"It had a personal significance to him. Someone who wants to be part of the journey from Lincoln to Kennedy will want to have this document."
The revered artifact is one of 25 known to survive; 18 are in institutional collections, Sotheby's said. It hung for more than 40 years in the Kennedy family's home in McLean, Va., Hickory Hill, which was recently sold. The proceeds from the sale will go to Robert Kennedy's estate. The family could not be reached for further comment on the auction.
"On the great ladder to freedom, the rungs that raised us highest are those ringing proclamations: Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address," said David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby's, in a statement last month.
"This latest document, the Kennedy Emancipation Proclamation, links the noblest ideals of the 1860s to the 1960s. . . . It is a talisman of two times and a reminder that there is no end to the struggle for freedom."
The Great Central Fair
The streets around Logan Square were crowded from June 7 to 21, 1864, as thousands of people came to the Great Central Fair, in the shadow of the recently completed Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
They came to the event - held by the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a forerunner of the American Red Cross - to lend their support to sick and wounded Union soldiers and sailors and their families.
The visitors enjoyed amusements and admired a painting collection and exhibits that included a horseshoe machine, wax fruit, and glassblowing demonstrations.
They also spent their money on a variety of donated goods, including books, jewelry, clothing, carpets, china, and porcelain. Forty-eight copies of the Emancipation Proclamation - the original was issued Jan. 1, 1863 - were among the items up for sale.
The printed 212/3-by-173/8-inch broadside was headed in gothic script by the simple words A Proclamation, followed by 52 lines that changed the Civil War and reaffirmed the Declaration of Independence's truth that "all men are created equal."
At the bottom was the president's signature, written at a slight angle compared with the rest of the text. "Lincoln cared deeply about the document and the fair," said Selby Kiffer, senior vice president in the books and manuscripts department of Sotheby's. "He was signing them efficiently, not hurriedly."
"If my name goes down in history," Lincoln once said of the original proclamation, "it will be for this act."
Below his signature were those of William H. Seward, secretary of state, and John G. Nicolay, Lincoln's private secretary.
The idea of printing the limited edition of the proclamation came from two committed Unionists from Philadelphia, George Henry Boker, a founding member of the Union League, and Charles Godfrey Leland, a humorist and folklorist.
The copies were publicized in the fair's promotional newspaper, Our Daily Fare: "The original Proclamation of Emancipation, signed by President Lincoln, sold at the Chicago Fair for three thousand dollars. A few duplicates, with the 'veritable and authenticated' signatures of Abraham Lincoln, Secretary Seward and Mr. Nicolay, are for sale at the Daily Fare table; price only ten dollars. Every branch of the Union League, and indeed every patriot, should be proud to own one of these."
The recently renominated president and the first lady visited the fair June 16, helping to draw further attention to the event, which pulled in more than $1 million.
Ten copies of his proclamation went unsold. Half were presented to libraries, and the rest were sold for the benefit of the Sanitary Commission at the National Sailors Fair, held in Boston in November 1864.
The original owner of the document in next month's auction is unknown. Eventually, the proclamation came into the possession of collector Charles Wesley Olsen, and his estate sold it to Kennedy in 1964.
"It was the most expensive item in the sale of historical American books and documents," Kiffer said. "It became the highlight of the Kennedy collection. Bobby Kennedy was inspired by the Emancipation Proclamation - not just in a philosophical sense but in a practical and pragmatic way."
Seen on the battlefield
At least four copies of the Emancipation Proclamation are in Philadelphia. Besides the one in the Historical Society, others can be found at the Union League, the National Constitution Center, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Indeed, some historians are more impressed by one of the other items to be exhibited with the Kennedy copy at the Library Company: an 1863 version of the proclamation first seen by the soldiers in the field.
"That had a real impact," said Phil Lapsansky, curator of African American history at the Library Company. "The guys in the field were fighting the war, and now comes this news. Whoa! This is a humble, half-sheet of paper with emotion. Everyone was amazed."
Other items in Monday's exhibit include Lincoln's signed 1862 draft of a preliminary emancipation proclamation urging Confederates to cease the rebellion or face seizure of their property. Additional documents and lithographs will be shown.
But the Kennedy-Lincoln lure of the auction document sets it apart. "Kennedy may have had a mystical draw" to the proclamation, said Andy Waskie, a Temple University professor, historian, and author. "Studying what it did and how it affected American life may have been his motivation for honoring it so much."
Lincoln's original autographed draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was donated to the Northwestern Fair for the Sanitary Commission held in 1863.
The president wrote, at the time, that he had "some desire to retain the paper; but if it shall contribute to the relief or comfort of the soldiers, that will be better." It was later lost in the Great Chicago Fire.
"There are moments in history that are summarized by a documents like this," Sajet said. "Many would say that the issues embodied by the Emancipation Proclamation have not been resolved."
The Kennedy proclamation may have been "a souvenir copy, but it has a moral significance because of Robert Kennedy," said Raab of the Raab Collection. "How much does that moral connection bring?"
Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or email@example.com.