The items passed down through generations of Washington’s family were among hundreds related to the first U.S. president offered for sale by Heritage Auctions in Dallas. They were put up for auction by descendants of Washington’s brother Bushrod. The first president had no direct descendants.
Nat Washington, a longtime state senator in Washington who died in 2007, had said in his will that he wanted the items sold.
The top lot was George Washington’s compass, which fetched US$59,750, and a Gunter’s Scale, a 24-inch (60-centimeter) wooden ruler that was a precursor to the slide rule, that brought nearly US$42,000. Both items sold for more than expected.
“The marvelous provenance of these pieces, having come straight from the descendants of Bushrod Washington himself, who became the custodian of Mount Vernon after Washington’s death in 1799, certainly lent itself to these pieces having realized such significant prices,” said Tom Slater, Heritage’s director of Americana Auctions.
“These are singular pieces of the sort that are not likely to show up again on the open market for a very long time. Collectors realized this and adjusted their bids accordingly.”
The auction company said the buyers asked to remain anonymous.
An archive of hundreds of Washington family papers dating from 1662 through 1835 brought US$50,788, and several pieces of Washington’s original coffin, including a handle, brought more than US$12,000 total. The former president’s body was placed in a marble sarcophagus in 1837.
While items related to Washington aren’t rare, it was unusual to have pieces up for auction that had been kept in the family for so long, Slater said previously.
The auction also included, from a different seller, a 1796 patent for an improvement to the cotton gin by Hodgen Holmes that sold for US$179,250. It was signed personally by Washington.
“This is notable not only for the fact that the president signed the patent himself,” Slater said Saturday, “but that this patent, which made the cotton gin more efficient, likely extended the life of slavery for another 65 years.”