Senior Specialist, Manuscripts and Americana
New York, Rockefeller Center
With more than thirty-five years’ experience in the field of books and manuscripts, Chris Coover is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities in the appraisal and cataloguing of autograph manuscripts, letters and documents, with a particular interest and expertise in documents relating to the history of the United States of America.
A highlight of Chris’s long career was the sale in November 1994 of the Leonardo da Vinci Codex Hammer, an illustrated notebook describing Leonardo’s observations on tides, winds and cosmology, sold for a record $30.2 million and still the highest price ever attained for any book or manuscript at auction. He has handled many celebrated collections of literary, historical and musical manuscripts, including such exceptional items as the original typescript scroll of Jack Kerouac’s classic beat novel On the Road (sold in May 2001 $2,426,000, a record for any literary manuscript); Albert Einstein’s draft letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, alerting him to the potential threat of atomic weapons (sold in March 2002 for $2,096,000); the manuscript of Abraham Lincoln’s last public address, endorsing voting rights for freed slaves (sold in March 2002 for $3,086,000), and a remarkable letter of George Washington regarding ratification of the Constitution (sold December 2009 for $3,208,500, a record for an American manuscript). Both the Einstein letter and the Lincoln speech were part of the celebrated collection of the late publisher Malcolm Forbes. Chris appraised and orchestrated the legendary six-part sale of this collection over the years 2002 to 2007, setting numerous price records and bringing just over $40 million, the highest total for any sale of American letters, books or documents.
Chris’s personal interest in Abraham Lincoln and George Washington has resulted in many successful auctions. He identified and authenticated a previously unknown autograph book with a famous quotation from Lincoln’s second inaugural address (“with malice towards none, with charity for all...”), having discovered it in an old cabinet during a routine appraisal of the contents of a New York apartment: it sold for an exceptional $1.32 million. In June 2012, he organized the sale of Washington’s personal, annotated copy of the first printing of the Acts of the newly created congress, bound specially for the new President, which achieved a record price of $9.8 million and is now displayed at Mount Vernon, Washington’s historic home on the Potomac.
Chris earned a B.A. cum laude in music at the State University of New York at Buffalo and an M.A. in library science at Columbia University. He worked at the rare book room at New York City’s famous Strand Book Store and as a junior cataloguer at another auction house (1978-1980) before joining Christie’s in May 1980. Mr. Coover was the recipient of a research grant from the Bibliographical Society of America (1986), has served as a Trustee of the Manuscript Society since 1989, and as the organization’s President in 1994-1995.