Last week an English national treasure was unveiled after having hung in a private collection for over 300 years. What was discovered was a painting of William Shakespeare, which is currently believed to be the only portrait he sat for during his lifetime. However, this is not the only major historical discovery to occur within the last year. In fact, in early fall 2008 an American national treasure was discovered in the private collection of a local family.
MIR Appraisal Services was commissioned in the summer of 2008 to examine the items in an estate located in a Chicago suburb. What we appraised were several wonderful fine art and decorative items. Then we discovered an incredible piece of Americana. It was a hand written copy of America the Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates (1859 – 1929), penned and signed entirely in Ms. Bates hand. This was a very rare discovery because, although Ms. Bates’ original copy is known to be located at the Falmouth Historical Society, within the last 30 years only one other fully handwritten and signed copy of America the Beautiful has reached the open market.
The first draft of America the Beautiful had been written by Katharine Lee Bates in the summer of 1893 while she was traveling to Chicago for the world’s Columbian Exposition. The poem was then published in The Congregationalist two years later as part of a fourth of July celebration, shortly after which it became hugely popular.
This very unique manuscript had been in the family’s possession for a number of years, along with several other important historical documents. However, the item had remained unexamined by professional eyes and was considered a reproduction, an understandable assumption do to the rarity of authentic handwritten copies of America the Beautiful. The trained eyes of the staff at MIR Appraisal Services were able to recognize that the document was unique and had potential to be something of, not only great monetary value, but also of national value. We were able to authenticate the document through extensive research, and earlier this month it was auctioned by a premier international auction house.
It is always important to contact a professional team of appraisers if you have any questions about documents, decorative items, or fine art items, because, as the last year has shown us, hidden treasures are often lurking in private collections. For more information on appraising your items, or to setup an appraisal appointment with our professional staff of appraisers please call 312.814.8510.