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Collection of original political cartoons to be auctioned Sept. 6, Oct. 18

Published Aug. 28, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Political junkies, history buffs and anyone else interested in acquiring original political cartoons spanning the late 1800s to the 1940s will soon have a chance to buy one for between $50 and $3,000.

A Palm Harbor man is auctioning his late grandfather's collection of 350 political cartoons from newspapers across the country. The collector, Charles L. Howard, spent the 1930s and '40s acquiring the original drawings, most of them 15 by 20 inches. He got most by writing to the political cartoonists after seeing their works in print.

There's the one of the elephant in a hospital bed worrying that Franklin Roosevelt will run for another term. Several feature a haggard-looking donkey. One depicts Adolf Hitler trying to blow down the Statue of Liberty. Some illustrate America's poor hoping for better days.

"Very rarely do this many (political cartoons) come to the public marketplace," said Jeffrey Hess, owner of Hess Fine Auctions. "Newspapers hold on to their cartoons. Artists hold on to them. Families hold on to them, or they are sent to museums."

Hess is overseeing the online auction of 130 of the cartoons relating to World War I and II that will begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 6 at liveauctioneers.com.

On Oct. 18, he will auction the remaining 220 political cartoons, including works by Thomas Nast, and original railroad art.

About 40 percent of the Howard collection has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hess was struck by recalling when Hitler and other ominous figures from wartimes were frequent guests in America's newspapers.

"With simply their pen and paper (the political cartoonists) would make these big, black graphic swastikas and these imposing Nazis. It really brings home how scary things must have been in the 1940s," he said. "This collection could have been sold at Sotheby's or Christie's (auction houses in New York), but fortunately it landed in good ol' St. Petersburg."

Some can be seen at liveauctioneers.com and hessfineauctions.com. Interested parties can also visit the store at 1131 Fourth St. N to see them in person.

Several of the cartoons in the collection were penned by Nast, who is referred to as the father of the American political cartoon and credited with creating the elephant that became the icon of the GOP. Hess predicts that Nast's drawings may sell for up to $3,000 each, while lesser-known artists' drawings will fetch $50 to $100. Only a few of the 350 pieces hold a reserve, or minimum sale price.

"This is an excellent opportunity for someone to grab a piece of history and original art for very little money," he said.

Also, because Howard corresponded with the artists to acquire their work, many of the pieces are signed. They are from more than 60 large and small newspapers and magazines across the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and the New York Times.

Charles Lowell Howard Martin, 52, of Palm Harbor never knew his grandfather. He also never saw the collection before recently taking it to Hess to discuss auctioning it.

"I could see how fragile they were and was afraid to open them up without the help of an expert," said Martin, who works for BobCad software in Clearwater. "I know how beautiful they are. They are just not my thing. I would never have room to display them."

His grandfather also collected Sunday comic strips and owned a vacation home in Palm Springs, Calif., next to Walt Disney.

"I don't know if that was a coincidence or if he planned that when he bought the house," Martin said with a laugh.

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampabay.com.

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