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BOOTH LETTER AUCTIONED FOR RECORD $68,000

A letter written by President Abraham Lincoln's assassin two months before the 1865 slaying sold at auction Sunday for a record $68,000.

In the letter, dated Feb. 9, 1865, John Wilkes Booth asks a friend to send him a picture of himself "with cane & black cravat" -- the one later used on his wanted poster.

The previous high for a Booth letter was $38,000, according to Stuart Whitehurst, vice president of Skinner auctioneers.

The buyer was Joe Maddalena, a Beverly Hills-based historical document dealer. Maddalena, who bid by phone, said Booth "is the rarest American autograph."

"When he killed Lincoln, anybody who had any relationship with him burned their letters, because they were so afraid they would be linked to him," Maddalena said.

Whitehurst estimated that only 17 Booth letters remain in private hands. This letter was addressed to Orlando Tompkins of Boston, a family friend, apothecary and part owner of the Boston Theatre.

Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and former actor, was retrieving his mail at the theater on April 14, 1865, when he heard that Lincoln would be attending "Our American Cousins" that evening.

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