A U.S. flag from one of the thousands of Allied ships that delivered troops to the Normandy beaches sold for $350,000 at a New York City auction of hundreds of D-Day and other World War II artifacts on Thursday, a day before the 70th anniversary of the invasion.
An unnamed online buyer won the spirited bidding at Bonhams in Manhattan for the American flag that flew aboard the U.S.-built LST 493, which went for far more than the pre-sale estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. The auction also featured rare print-outs of the original series of hourly Dow Jones news bulletins with some of the first reports of the fighting on France's north coast on June 6, 1944. They fetched $10,000. The flag and documents were owned by military collector and historian Rodney Hilton Brown.
The auction also included battlefield souvenirs, innovative wartime technology, rare documents and photographs from the war's European and Pacific theaters.
Among the higher-priced items for sale were the original designs of the Mulberry harbor, the massive structures the Allied ferried across the English Channel to use as temporary ports on Normandy's coast. The British innovation allowed quick resupply and reinforcement of the assault troops after they started advancing inland. Sketched in pencil by engineer Hugh Iorys Hughes, the nine drawings had a pre-sale estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. But Bonham's said they did not sell Thursday.
"Every object in the June 5 WWII sale has an incredible story to tell," said Tom Lamb, Bonhams' business development director for the books and manuscripts department in New York. "They bear witness to the war's unparalleled turmoil, and testify to the bravery of many individuals as well as entire nations."
More than half of the 350-lot auction is owned by Brown, a military historian and collector who also owns the original 12½-foot-tall version of the sculpture depicting the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima. Inspired by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal's famous image of the event, Felix de Weldon made the stone monument seven years before his larger bronze of the flag raising was installed in Arlington, Virginia, as the Marine Corps War Memorial. The original statue failed to sell during a February 2013 auction at Bonhams.
Brown, a 71-year-old Army veteran, began collecting World War II items as a 10-year-old canvassing his Philadelphia neighborhood, telling homeowners he was collecting items from the war.
"They'd say, 'Great, take them out of here," Brown said in a telephone interview.
Brown, founder and owner of the New York-based War Museum, said it was fitting to put his items up for sale on June 5 because June 6 was the day "the greatest invasion in history took place." He points out that the Dow Jones printouts from various news sources that historic day are particularly rare since they were usually tossed away or used for "ticker tape" parades.
"Somebody knew enough to clip out and save the D-Day bulletins," Brown said. "It's a unique document. I don't believe there's another one in existence."