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Sale of Signed Copy of Emancipation Proclamation Sparks Flap

October 25, 1989 GMT

ASHFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ A signed copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation first spelled freedom for the financially strapped library where it was found, but now the valuable document is causing a flap that could end up in court.

Some residents oppose an Oct. 31 auction that may fetch $100,000 or more for the original copy, found in a pile of junk in the basement of the three- room library.

″When a town comes to view its historical documents only for their monetary value, pretty soon it loses its character and identity and becomes just a place of mortar and bricks,″ Susan Todd, chairwoman of the Ashfield Historical Society, said Wednesday.


But Mrs. Todd and others who don’t want the document sold have been unable to persuade officials to call off the auction at Sotheby’s in New York. Mrs. Todd said she wouldn’t be surprised if the matter winds up in court, though she would not say whether she planned such action.

″A lot of people have said that’s where the issues should be decided,″ Mrs. Todd said.

Noah Gordon, chairman of the board of trustees at Belding Memorial Library where the copy was found in April, said neither the library nor the town could provide adequate security to keep the document.

More than 100 residents in this community of 1,500 people turned out for a recent meeting on the flap. Questions were raised over whether library trustees or town officials own the document that Sotheby’s values at between $70,000 and $100,000 - and even whether the library belongs to the town or legally is in private hands because of past donations.

The discovery of the document, at the time, seemed the answer to library trustees’ attempts to raise money for an addition when state and federal grants fell more than $50,000 short.

″We were in despair and it seemed almost fated,″ Gordon said.

Experts at Sotheby’s told trustees the copy was one of 48 made in 1864 and signed by Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward. About half of the copies still exist, and the last copy sold went for $297,000.

Mrs. Todd said the historical society hasn’t been able to determine exactly how the proclamation got to Ashfield, but has several theories.

Mrs. Todd’s favorite theory centers on a woman named Amanda Hall, who kept homes in New York and Ashfield. One of the woman’s two brothers was a major who died at the Battle of Gettysburg, Mrs. Todd said.

Through another of her brothers, who was a U.S. senator, Amanda got Lincoln to give her something in his own handwriting.