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  • The Story of... Legendary American social reformer Frederick Douglass
  • Post author
    Paul Fraser
  • Legendaryof...StoryThe

The Story of... Legendary American social reformer Frederick Douglass

Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X regularly appear on the private collectors' markets. But now another civil rights activist has made his mark at auction: Frederick Douglass, the internationally-recognised abolitionist and campaigner for equal opportunities and women's rights.

An ambrotype of Douglass, dated to circa 1870, was the big sale as auctioneer Jackson's sale of the Ken Oden collection in Iowa. Measuring just 4 ¼ x 3 ¼ inches, the image on glass sold for $24,000.

And it didn't go to any ordinary buyer. Collectors and historians will be able to view the ambrotype in the Smithsonian's new African-American Culture Wing. Representatives from the museum placed the winning five-figure bid.

With one look at Douglass's life story, it's easy to understand why. Born in slave cabin near Maryland, US, in February 1818 (he never knew his exact birthday), Douglass was abandoned by his grandmother in the plantation owned by his master, aged six.

While in his teens, Douglass experienced first-hand the horrifying plight of black slaves. Later, a fight with his slavebreaker, Edward Covey, was pivotal in establishing Douglass's self-worth. In 1838, aged 20, he escaped his life of slavery disguised as a sailor.

Behind Douglass's strong will was a also keen mind. Aged 12, he purchased a copy of The Columbian Orator, a popular school book at the time, which opened the young boy's mind to the power and positive effects of the spoken and written word.


Sold for $24,000, the circa 1870s Frederick Douglass ambrotype

After his escape, Douglass became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. This led him into public speaking and writing and his reputation grew - to the extent that he later became a trusted advisor to President Abraham Lincoln.

Dedicating his efforts to women's rights as well as abolitionist causes, Douglass lived his life by three principals: believe in yourself; take advatange of every opportunity; and use the power of spoken and written language to effect positive change for yourself and society.

To mark Douglass's success at auction and the opening of the Smithsonian's new African-American Culture Wing, our 'Story of...' this week is a fascinating mini-documentary on the remarkable life of Frederick Douglass - which you can watch above.

Meanwhile, Jackson's sale of the Ken Oden collection drew more than 200 registered bidders from 13 countries and most regions of the US. African American and African photography, postcards and ephemera featured among the lots.

The auction was held in Ceder Falls, Iowa, US on August 24-25.

 

 

  • Post author
    Paul Fraser
  • Legendaryof...StoryThe