Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    An Incredible Photographic Archive Documenting the Trial of James Garfield's Assassin, Charles Guiteau. Accused of a capital crime, a man sits in his cell signing autographs and inscribing photos for sale to those obsessed with his murder trial. O. J. Simpson a few years back? No. Charles Guiteau, presidential assassin, more than a century ago. There is nothing new in the marketing of one's likeness while incarcerated. While unique in degree (O. J. is purported to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars signing cards, footballs, etc. while in the Los Angeles jail), the practice dates back to the advent of popular photography. Perhaps the first to utilize this approach for funding a legal defense was Charles Julius Guiteau. This lot is the definitive photographic archive that documents the events detailed below. Guiteau was born in Freeport, Illinois, September 8, 1841. In the forty-one years he lived, his only "accomplishment" was the assassination of President James A. Garfield. A failed New York attorney whose area of specialization was small claims - for which he charged an astounding 75% contingency fee - the man was always of "questionable sanity." After Garfield won the 1880 election, Guiteau concocted the perfect job for himself. He wanted to work in the U.S. Consulate Office in Paris. Believing he had much more intelligence and ability than anyone with such aspirations, Guiteau thought he could just name a job and it would be his. He constantly visited the White House to talk with the President's staff. In a short while, the secretaries were no longer amused by his "drop ins." By the spring of 1881, the White House was off limits to this unsuccessful office-seeker. Guiteau became enraged. On July 2, 1881, the President prepared to leave Washington on a two-week holiday. He entered the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Depot in only the company of Secretaryof State James G. Blaine. Given the lack of security, it was a simple matter for Guiteau to walk right up to the President and fire two shots from a 44-calibre revolver. The first ball passed through Garfield's left shoulder, the second lodged in his back above the left kidney. He survived for eighty days, eventually dying of blood poisoning. Ironically, Garfield had personal insight into the horror of a presidential assassination. A hero of the Civil War, Congressman Garfield found himself in New York City when news broke of the assassination of President Lincoln. A mob of more than 50,000 massed at the Custom's House in downtown Manhattan and threatened to riot. When they began marching to the office of the New York World (a newspaper ever-critical of Lincoln) crying, "Vengeance!" Garfield single-handedly stopped the crowd by delivering a moving speech that called for calm.

    "The President's tragic death was a sad necessity," is a quote from a letter found in the pocket of the assassin. "In the President's madness he has wrecked the once grand old Republican party; and for this he dies." (He would also blame James G. Blaine as inspiring his evil deed.) He fled the shooting scene in a cab, but turned himself in a few hours later. In his cell Guiteau wrote his own epitaph: "Here lies the body of Charles Guiteau, Patriot and Christian." Guiteau went to trial on November 14, 1881. The verdict was rendered January 25, 1882, and he was hanged at the jail in Washington, D.C. five months later.

    At no time during his incarceration did Guiteau slow his efforts to find public support for his actions. And just as much energy went into selling photographs taken from his jail cell. As he wrote in one note on February 8, 1882, "Dear Sir: Photographs are one dollar apiece or $9 per dozen... The photograph is very fine. Send for what you wish by money order..." While Guiteauhimself may not have made very much, others did. As proclaimed in an advertisement for carte and cabinet photographs, selling these keepsakes from the trial represented "A Fortune For Agents." Images of the assassin, the trial judge, the lawyers, even montages of the president's family sold well. As the carte notes, "These National portraits sell like hot cakes to every person who sees them at 50 cents each. Agents can make $10 a day in selling them." Few extant examples of Guiteau images are known today. He seems to have passed into total obscurity with his jailhouse photographs long discarded. (The large number of John Wilkes Booth photographs still found are a function of the actor's own ego - Booth was considered quite handsome and loved to be photographed - and the fact that they were collected before April 15, 1865. But he stands alone in surviving the test of time.)

    We believe this incredible holding originates from the personal files/studio of Washington, D.C. photographer C. M. Bell. It is certainly the most comprehensive such collection known. C. M. Bell was the only photographer authorized by the defendant (and Washington authorities) to visit the Washington, D.C. jail to take portraits prior to the trial. In fact Guiteau seems to have entered into a partnership with the photographer as the assassin actively marketed these photographs to raise funds for his defense. This archive includes forty-six (46) original photographs. Forty-five are approximately 4" x 5.75" albumens mounted onto original 7" x 9" boards and in extremely fine condition. (One is a loose albumen with tear but still fine.) Several have the addition of period manuscript titling at the bottom of the mount with C. M. Bell's copyright notice. We believe these to have been the original plates by which maquettes were made or photographs were offered, as several include the partial autographsof those who posed. This voluminous archive includes: four (4) from-life portraits of Guiteau; three chest-up studies and one full standing shot. Two are hand titled with the addition of Bell's copyright notice. Two studies of the Baltimore and Potomac Rail Road Depot where the shooting occurred; an outdoor photograph of the court house where the trial took place, a montage of scenes hand titled "Historical Photograph of the Assassination..." with images of the gun, the victim, the assassin, the doctors, and various other scenes. Also present are several photographs of medical figures involved in the case, including Dr. Smith Townsend (who initially examined Garfield at the station), attending physician Dr. D. W. Bliss, and Fordyce Barker, Professor of Medicine who testified at the trial. There are several portraits of Guiteau's family members: his father, brother, sister (who was the wife of defense attorney Scoville), John K. Porter, lead defense attorney, E. B. Smith, Counsel for the Prosecution, Presiding Judge Walter S. Cox, District Attorney George Corkhill, Supreme Court Justice David Davis, and even one of the guard who had taken a shot at Guiteau (but missed!) Sgt. William Mason. There are several portraits of leading figures: Garfield, Blaine, "Black Jack" Logan, etc. Also found are numerous portraits of jurors (including one of the sole African American to sit in the jury); and even a gruesome photograph of the assassin's brain - dissected immediately after his execution. There would be no possible means for assembling a comparable collection of original, period photographs from this dark event. This is truly a unique offering.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2006
    12th-13th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 5
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,555

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $9) per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 September 14 - 15 Americana & Political.

    Learn about consigning with us

    The department director has the heart of a true and highly knowledgeable collector with the business acumen of someone who has been not only successful but has decades of an impeccable track record
    David Greenburg,
    Chicago, IL
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search