Rare Harriet Tubman photo garners $161K at auction

SALISBURY, Md. — A newly discovered photograph of Harriet Tubman was sold at auction for $161,000, far more than what experts had predicted.

The sepia-infused portrait, likely taken between 1866-1868, depicts the famed Underground Railroad conductor and Dorchester County native in her mid-40s. Tubman is shown seated in a floor-length dress, her right arm resting comfortably on the back of her chair.

Swann Galleries, the New York auction company that conducted Thursday’s sale, had estimated that the photograph would fetch between $20,000 and $30,000.

The sale also included other photographs of prominent 19th century abolitionists and politicians, including the only known photograph of John Willis Menard, the first African American elected to Congress.

"We had expected it to go above the conservative estimate, given the media attention before the sale, which resulted in more than six serious phone bidders, and at least two bidders in the room," said Swann Galleries spokeswoman Ferry Foster.

The company identified the winning bidder as Lion Heart Autographs, a New York-based dealer. A Lion Heart representative it bought the photograph on behalf of "an American institution." That institution is expected to reveal its identity and its plans for the photograph in the coming days.

The $161,000 sale includes the $130,000 "hammer price" and a $31,000 auctioneer fee.

The photo was part of an album of images of black and white abolitionists that was given to Emily Howland, a 19th-century educator and philanthropist, Swann Galleries said. A keen-eyed collector found the album at a government-sponsored auction in New York a couple of years ago, paying $250 for the collection.

Follow Jeremy Cox on Twitter: @Jeremy_Cox

Copyright The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Tim


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