To be fair it was a charity auction with proceeds going to the Red Cross. And it was 1918 when I'd imagine the monied folk would be easily predisposed to making such a donation, film star photos or not.
But boy, I wish I knew whose pictures were inside that album!
Using the handy-dandy Inflation Calculator at the DollarTimes.com we can see that $7,500 in 1918 dollars works out to a hair over $123 and a half THOUSAND dollars in 2012 money.
I'm guessing that would be an auction record.
The sale for the Red Cross took place at the Hotel Alexander in Los Angeles sometime in April 1918 and the mystery album was sold by an auctioneer of note. To a bidder of note.
Then at least. Today you will more likely be more familiar with some of their relatives.
Frank Keenan, star of stage and screen, likely could have landed work as an auctioneer had he ever had to as his performance at our 1918 auction was so moving as to cause a soldier to leap to the stage and demand the crowd up the already spirited bidding to $6,000.
"I've been hearing this man try to get money out of you," the soldier said. "He's made me cry and he's made others cry. He's going to get $6,000 for this album and I'm going to stick here by him til he does."
Bidding resumed and the photo album worked its way up to $7,500 before the hammer fell.
It was sold to a daughter of the former Montana Senator, filthy rich Gilded Age figure, William A. Clark. Clark's youngest daughter, Huguette Clark, who just passed away in 2011 at age 104 and still seems haunt the New York Daily News weekly, would have been not quite 12 years old at the time so she's unlikely to have been the bidder. I'd imagine the winning bidder was one of Clark's older daughters by his first marriage.
Whichever of Senator Clark's daughters won the bidding likely never saw the mystery photo album again: "She presented it to the soldier to take to France and show the boys 'over there.'"
Frank Keenan was already 60 years old by the time of our 1918 auction. His most highly lauded work was already behind him on the stage though you can see him in 1922's Lorna Doone, a Kino video release starring Madge Bellamy in the title role, or as the star of 1915's The Coward, which I know Turner Classic Movies has aired in the past year.
Today, Keenan would be best recalled by way of his own daughter, Hilda, who married Ed Wynn just a few years before our auction. Our aging auctioneer's namesake, Keenan Wynn, would have been just shy of two years old at the time of this sale.
Perhaps the most eye-catching part of this entire story comes in the headline: "Keenan Moves Crowd to Tears, then Buys $300 Pig."
Keenan had the pig roasted and sent to a submarine base in San Pedro.
By the way, that's a $4,900 pig in 2012 dollars.
- "Keenan Moves Crowd to Tears, then Buys $300 Pig." The Bridgeport Telegram. 16 April 1918: 8.