Land grant values hinge on the signer
The 3-piece Montblanc pen set sold for $5,760 recently at Swann Galleries in New York. (Swanngalleries.com / April 12, 2013)
A: In 1811, when the reader's land grant was written, Ohio territory was the American frontier. They're not rare; quite a few presidential land grants for that area from the era still remain.
Sandra Palomino, director of historical manuscripts at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, http://www.ha.com, has handled many such documents.
"Primary value for a land grant is based on the autograph value of the signer," she told us. In this case, the money question is whether a Ben Franklin signature tops Madison/Monroe signings.
While Palomino thinks that signings by the latter are "hugely undervalued" because both founding fathers made significant contributions, it is Franklin's signature that buyers want. That, in large part, explains the 5-figure result on the Franklin signed deed.
Happily, the reader's grant was signed before the 1830s. Early presidents and Cabinet officers signed all land grants, but "once you get into the 1830s, that is not always the case," adds Palomino. As example, Andrew Jackson signed many during his administration, but his nephew and secretary also signed.
After Jackson, all presidents used their secretaries to sign grants. The one exception is John Tyler, and he did not sign many. Only a handful of Tyler-signed land grants exist. It seems like an ideal collecting scenario, but low demand has kept values low.
A casual look on the Internet for Madison/Monroe signed land grants offered by dealers showed breathtaking price tags. We found several in the $15,000 range.
When we asked what gives with those prices, Palomino replied via e-mail that she has no explanation or comment. Our opinion is that a seller can ask anything, but getting it is another matter.
Most retail dealers offer Madison/Monroe signed land grants for $1,000-$1,500.
Results at auction tend to be more realistic. The auction house wants to realize best price for the consigner as well as for the house, because it realizes a percentage of the sale. It's in everyone's interest to sell high.
According to Palomino, George Washington-signed land grants sell at auction for $8,000-$10,000. Jefferson grants sell in the $3,000-$5,000 range, and John Adams-signed grants sell for $2-$3K. After that, results drop. Secretary-signed Abe Lincoln grants go for $25-$100.
Authentication is not necessary if the grant is consigned to auction; house experts will take care of that. I suggest shopping the document to auctions that sell Americana and historic manuscripts.
Q: Any thoughts or comments on my granddad's Omega watch?
A: An image sent shows a pocket watch on a chain. Either might be gold or gold plated. Unfortunately, case markings and those on the works are not shown. That's the info needed.
I suggest that the reader check his local library for a recent edition of "Complete Price Guide to Watches." Or look on http://www.tinderboxpress.com. The title lists over 10,000 pocket and wrist watches with values.
The no-fee site http://www.liveauctioneers.com has recent auction results of Omega pocket watches. There he'll see why proper ID is critical.
AUCTION ACTION: In a recent sale of fine writing instruments at Swann Galleries in New York, a Montblanc Imperial Dragon 3-piece set of a fountain pen, ballpoint and mechanical pencil brought $5,760. Numbering 896 of 5,000 made, the limited edition set in mint condition sold in two original boxes with papers. The medium pen nib is 18K two-tone gold.
Q: One 19th Century technological and social advancement made American pocket watches the best in the world. What was it?
The hunter case
The railroad watch
The lever escapement
A: With 500-1,000 American railroads at the time, the railroad watch standardized time setting and established American pocket watches as the best. Source: "Complete Price Guide to Watches."
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