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Album with rare 1860s Harriet Tubman photo sells for $161K

Swann Galleries

Associated Press

Swann Galleries
Swann Galleries

NEW YORK (AP) – An album containing a rare photograph of 19th century abolitionist and Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman was sold Thursday at a New York City auction for $161,000 – far exceeding presale estimates.

Swann Galleries said the circa late 1860s image and other items in the album sold for a hammer price of $130,000, plus a $31,000 auctioneer fee. The album had an estimated sale price of $20,000 to $30,000.

The winning bid was made by phone by Lion Heart Autographs, a Manhattan-based dealer.

The Tubman photo shows her seated on a chair and was taken in Auburn, in central New York, in 1868 or 1869. She was in her late 40s at the time. Most existing photographs of Tubman were taken later in her life.

The album was sold during an auction of books, other printed materials and photos from the slavery and abolition eras. The album also includes portraits of contemporary abolitionists and politicians, including John Willis Menard, the first African-American elected to Congress.

The Maryland-born Tubman, an escaped slave, helped scores of other slaves escape the South by guiding them north on the Underground Railroad. She served as a spy during the Civil War. Afterward, she settled in Auburn, in the Finger Lakes region.

The Harriet Tubman national historic site in Auburn launched a crowdfunding campaign to bid on the photograph. It raised more than $27,000 for its “Bring Harriet Home” online fundraising campaign with Women You Should Fund, a platform for supporting woman-led projects.

Organizers had hoped to buy the photo at the auction and return it to Auburn, where Tubman’s former home recently became part of the national parks system. She died in Auburn in 1913 and is buried there.