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Fall 2009

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Chris Coover

Chris Coover

Erudite specialist at Christie's oversees record auction of Lincoln manuscript

Story by Mara McGinnis, BA '97, Photo by Douglas Levere, BA '89

Coover close-up

UB degree BA '73; Instrument played as a music major at UB the lute; Favorite spot in New York Brooklyn Botanic Garden; Home base Montclair, NJ; Most impressionable firsthand sighting of rare manuscript Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Hammer (now owned by Bill Gates)

Back in 1992, Chris Coover, senior vice president and specialist in manuscripts at Christie’s in New York City, was “poking around” in Volume 8 of Abraham Lincoln’s Collected Works when he stumbled on the text of a presidential speech he had never before seen. Titled “Response to a Serenade,” the speech was delivered by Lincoln on November 10, 1864, from the balcony of the White House only two days after his unexpected reelection as president.

“It was striking that this little-known speech had the same ring as the famous second inaugural,” says Coover. “They both contained a powerful and eloquent appeal for national reconciliation.”

A footnote indicated that the Southworth Library in upstate New York owned the original manuscript, so Coover wrote to the library and offered an appraisal. “Opening the folder that contained the speech was an intensely exhilarating moment,” he recalls, noting that it was written in Lincoln’s large, clear hand, and that the authenticity of the manuscript was immediately evident. “When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you can tell in a glance,” Coover explains. But it took more than a decade of deliberations for the library to decide to put the Lincoln manuscript up for sale. Finally, on February 12, 2009—the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth—it sold at auction at Christie’s for $3.4 million, a world record for any American document.

Coincidentally, another UB alumnus, Michael Lane, BA ’72, is the secretary of the Southworth Library’s Board of Trustees and worked closely with Coover to negotiate the consignment to Christie’s. “When Chris first met the board, he put everyone at ease with his impressive knowledge of Lincoln and of the manuscript itself,” says Lane, who noted that it was with “very heavy hearts” that the board decided to sell it to finance a new addition to the library. “We put our total trust in Chris and Christie’s, and they delivered.”

While that sale was a high point of Coover’s career, he also helped bring to auction such high-profile items as Jack Kerouac’s original typescript scroll of “On the Road,” the manuscript of a Johann Sebastian Bach cantata, an early Albert Einstein scientific manuscript and many other treasures. While the documents he’s researched in nearly 30 years at the world-renowned auction house have collectively sold for hundreds of millions of dollars, he says it’s “the thrill of discovery” that he enjoys most, adding that he’s had “some incredible luck along the way.”

UB in the News

How Donald Trump ruined the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum for actual Civil Rights leaders

An article in Newsweek about the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History, and the controversy over plans by President Trump to attend the ceremony, interviews Victoria Wolcott, professor and chair of history, who said Trump?s presence is problematic given his inability to denounce white supremacists in the wake of Charlottesville.

New downtown home for Jacobs School opens

The Buffalo News quoted UB President Satish K. Tripathi on the opening of the new Jacobs School building. "The world-class design was a sight to behold. But to gaze upon the magnificent finished product is to fully appreciate it for the breathtaking building it is."

Gum infections may increase risk for digestive tract sores

A Reuters article about a study that showed that gum infections may increase people?s risk for sores in the digestive tract that can lead to stomach cancer quotes Jean Wactawski-Wende , dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions.

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