View Cart Home»Americana
click for an even bigger image



I have seen a number of Lee autographed cartes-de-visite over the years and this is by far the boldest and most dramatic signature I can recall. Descended in the Ficklen family of Falmouth, Va., this Vannerson and Jones backmarked view has great tonal quality and provides a complete mid-chest-up seated view that is usually vignetted as an oval bust shot. That format provided Lee an open sepia ground on which to sign and his autograph tends to be the an R.E. Lee with razor thin upstrokes. Working against the darker background of his own uniform coat in this view, he used a broader line to emphasize his signature, though it of course still shows the difference in width between the upstrokes and downstrokes, as well as the characteristic nib line in the center.

The card has a Vannerson & Jones / Photographic Artists / No. 77 Main St., / Richmond, Va. backmark and a 2-cent tax stamp dating it to the Federal occupation, but even more exactly by its hand cancellation: V.J. / June 20 / 1865. After the surrender at Appomattox Lee joined his wife and daughters in Richmond at 707 East Franklin Street, where the family had resided since 1864. (The house still exists, is now known as the Stewart-Lee house, and was the location of Matthew Brady's famous photographs of Lee after his defeat.) While there, Lee was continuously besieged by well-wishers, autograph seekers, and the curious. Finally as the result of constant callers, the family left for the country towards the end of June. (National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form October, 1971.) The cancellation date, of course, only indicates the date it was purchased, but it is more than likely it was purchased with the specific idea of having Lee sign it and that he did so shortly before leaving the city.

The card was given to the consignor by his grandmother, Katharine Moncure Ficklen (1889-1978.) She was the wife of William Fitzhugh Ficklen (1887-1957.) His father, also William Fitzhugh Ficklen (1853-1920,) was the son of Joseph Burwell Ficklen (1800-1874,) and grew up at Belmont, the impressive Ficklen residence in Falmouth, Virginia.

Joseph Burwell Ficklen owned a flour mill and did very well for himself. Too old for service during the war, and with children too young, Ficklen remained at the house during the conflict, though apparently sending away his wife and children during times of crisis. His presence apparently spared the house ransacking during the Federal occupation of the area, but he also is reputed to have had Unionist sympathies and to have befriended Union General John Gibbon. Nevertheless, the family qualified as one of the FFVs and intermarried with other prominent Virginia families, including the Lee family. Joseph Burwell Ficklen's daughter Ann Eliza Ficklen in 1874 married Daniel Murray Lee, brother of Fitzhugh Lee and nephew of Robert E. Lee. Daniel was about as Confederate as could be: he joined the Confederate navy as a midshipman rose to lieutenant, served on some Confederate ironclads, and ended up as captain and Aide-de-Camp to his brother Major General Fitzhugh Lee during the retreat to Appomattox.

The only defects on the card other than clipped corners are a small spot on the lower right, below the end of Lees signature, and a slight vertical crease on the upper left that is more visible on the back than on the front, and which does not affect the figure.

The same pose, dated by tax stamps on the reverse just six days earlier, signed by Lee on the reverse, made $4300 at an Evans auction in 2009. Needless to say, I think a bold signature on the front much preferable. I see two other cards of lesser quality on the market at the moment at $6,000 and $7,000.

A super chance to own a great Lee signed card with an interesting provenance. I will provide a letter from the consignor to the purchaser. The item may be inspected in person by appointment or at the Baltimore, Mansfield, or Gettysburg shows, and possibly at the OVMS Show of Shows in Louisville. Cash, check or money order please. No paypal on this item. Contact me for any additional information, etc. Shipping $30 insured. NY addresses must add sales tax or supply a resale certificate.