The American Red Cross has been struggling with an operating deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars for two years now. They’ve managed to reduce it, but they still have $33.5 million to scrape up from somewhere, and that somewhere is its extensive collection of historical art, textiles, treasures of all kinds dating from before Clara Barton founded the organization in 1881.
Dozens of artifacts and archival items will be auctioned by Heritage Auction Galleries over the next few months. They’re being selective, though, because the American Red Cross is custodian of some major pieces of American history.
What once was a collection of more than 135,000 objects, images, books and reels of film kept in a Lorton, Va., warehouse outside Washington is being drastically scaled back. The warehouse will be closed next year to save $3 million annually.
Many items predate the time in 1881 when Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in Washington. Some have been sent to the National Archives under a long-standing partnership, the most historically significant art and objects will be kept at the Washington headquarters and others will be auctioned in the largest sale in years, archivist Susan Watson said.
The charity will honor donor intent and keep its best and most historically significant art and objects, Lowe said. That will include original paintings by Norman Rockwell, Howard Chandler Christy and African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, among others. Rockwell was commissioned to do paintings for the Red Cross as the basis of posters asking people to join or donate.
Some of the pieces for sale are utility items like World War I nurse uniforms, poster art, a woolen Civil War-era flag of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the precursor to the Red Cross, which may be the last one remaining from the Civil War period.
Others are decorative items and artwork donated by supporters over the years, like an 1864 Rose Percy doll set, complete with custom Tiffany jewelry and accessories, and a 1930’s Cartier Art Deco silver, gold, jadeite and pearl desk clock which is one of only 3 known.
The sales are conservatively estimated to bring in $200,000. That sounds very conservative to me, like maybe even a lowball. I mean, Cartier, Tiffany, a document that saved a man from being sent to the death camps in World War II… There’s no telling where the prices will end up.
You can see a beautiful video overview of the collection on the Heritage Auction website.