This time, energized by the prospect of happening on something hot, I jumped on things immediately. There were a number of comparables for the Lincoln signature on eBay ($4,000 to $5,000), and I spent several hours hunting down vetted examples elsewhere, carefully comparing them to what I had. I also discovered that mounted, signed scraps of paper on letters, etc., were common among Lincoln ephemera. Everything seemed to check out, in other words, and that's when I began to mull an offer. $5,000 for everything? Worst case would be that the Lincoln thing would get me back to break even, and I'd still have the Shaw stuff and maybe - big maybe - the playbills to make a few bucks on. Seemed reasonable.
One thing that concerned me was that I hadn't been able to find any playbill comps online, and before I called Mrs. Z. back, I wanted to be at least mildly informed before I made a commitment. I think I may have already mentioned that at this time I was also in the process of purchasing what turned out to be a valuable Shaker hymnal from a guy who was building a website for me. He was a part-time eBay seller who focused almost exclusively on celebrity signatures and, of all things, Batman memorabilia. Several times he'd mentioned something about a "contact" he had at Christie's, and I asked him if he knew anything about the playbills and, if not, would he ask his Christie's expert if they had any value.
Days went by. I asked again.
More days. A week. I asked again.
By now, of course, Mrs. Z. had called back and seemed especially anxious to consummate a sale. I told her I had one more phone call to make, and then I'd be able to make an offer.
Well, I gave it one more try, and, what do you know. Mr. Batman, who was probably getting tired of hearing from me, finally had some news: "Oh, that, yeah. I talked to them. They're like postage stamps. If you paste them down in an album, it pretty much about destroys their value. Otherwise, they usually go for about $50 apiece - if they're real."
Fine. It wasn't good news, but at least now I had something to take with me. My $5,000 offer seemed to be the thing to go with, so I called Mrs. Z. and headed out for the umpteenth time.
"$5,000??? Oh, dear, no. No, no, no. My word, I was thinking at least $7,000 or $8,000."
No can do, I said, and briefly explained: Shaw like Iacocca, playbills like postage stamps, Lincoln signature break even.
"I'd really like to get this taken care of. Can you do $6,000?" Her tone seemed different now. Not exactly desperate but, you know, edging there.
After a lengthy, pregnant pause, I said, "Let me look at the albums one more time."
Fortunately, there are times in my life when my good instincts actually do kick in, and thankfully this was one of them. I reexamined both albums front to back, slowly turning the pages, reading some of the letters I had only glanced at before, and for some reason, partly because several of these letters established provenance, I grew increasingly conscious of the fact that I was holding something very special in my hands. I didn't know how special at the time, but I did know I could get up off my price some.
And that's exactly what I did: "$5,500." I shut the playbill album with a snap and looked at her with all the resolve I could muster. "That's the best I can do." Then, in keeping with the legendary Iacoccan spirit, I added, "If you can find a better deal, take it."
Yet another sigh of resignation came from Mrs. Z., then, sitting up straight and taking a deep breath, she steeled herself for the inevitable. At long last we had a deal.
Of course, this was when things started to get really interesting.
To be continued ...
Read Part I of this article here.
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