Updated at 2:05 p.m. June 15, 2018
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was in heady company Thursday, with his collection of letters to an old Encinitas friend being auctioned alongside items signed by Presidents Washington, Lincoln and Kennedy.
But the late science-fiction writer held his own — even against Albert Einstein and Mark Twain. Hubbard’s 26 letters to Russell Hays sold for $38,000 to a phone bidder not immediately identified.
The “price realised” was $47,500, according to the Christie’s website. (That includes the buyer’s premium — defined as “local taxes, shipping expenses, loss and damage liability fees, and any other charges that may apply.”)
Christie’s auctioneer John Hays (who didn’t note being related to Russell) started the sale at $6,500 in New York City, with bidders also eligible to take part online.
Hays saw at least three people raise bids two dozen times, with one jumping in at $15,000.
The amounts rose quickly — $16,000, $17,000, $18,000. A $20,000 bid was followed by $22,000, then $24,000, $26,000 and soon $32,000. After a $35,000 bid came the winning “hammer price” of $38,000.
The batch of mostly typed letters in Hubbard’s folksy and sometimes ribald voice had an estimated pre-auction value of $10,000 to $15,000.
But Peter Klarnet, Christie’s senior specialist for Americana, Books & Manuscripts, had predicted that the estimate would “turn out to be quite conservative.”
He was right.
With more than 200 items on the block, the 5-hour live-streamed auction was a historical name-dropper’s paradise.
Besides George Washington (including a lock of his hair that went for $9,000), items from Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were gobbled up.
Bidders won papers signed or authored by Thomas Paine, John Hancock, Ben Franklin, Charles Lindbergh, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright and even Bill Clinton ($9,000 for a December 1998 letter referencing his impeachment).
An Olympic gold medal won by George Louis Redlein at the 1904 St. Louis Games (called the “original Dream Team”) went for $100,000.
Jennifer Cuminale, a Christie’s spokeswoman, says the auction house doesn’t tell how much of the sale it keeps.
But she shared the top and bottom prices fetched in the Rockefeller Center sale of “Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana.”
“Highest price for a lot in today’s book sales was for John James Audubon’s ‘The Birds of America’ (1827-1838), [which] realized $9,650,000, establishing the second-highest price at auction for a full folio-set, with proceeds to benefit the Knobloch Family Foundation,” Cuminale said.
The lowest price went to a group of 1903-1928 photographs of the Wright brothers — which sold for $1,625, she said.
Including the “buyer’s premium,” Thursday’s auction had a total take of $3.2 million.
One theoretical bidder for the Hubbard letters removed themselves from speculation a day later.
On Friday, a spokeswoman for the Spencer Research Library said Sherry Williams, curator of the Kansas collection that includes the Russell Hays papers, had “no knowledge of the winning bidder and no information to provide about the auction you mentioned as our library is not involved.”