Auction of Ronald Reagan blood vial canceled

A European auction house Thursday canceled the planned online sale of a vial containing dried blood residue said to be from Ronald Reagan after complaints from the late U.S. president's family and foundation.

The PFC Auction house said in a statement that the seller had withdrawn the item, which was linked to the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan, and plans instead to donate it to the former president's foundation.

The statement said the seller, who has remained anonymous, had obtained the vial at a U.S. auction earlier this year.

The decision not to sell the controversial item was praised by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation in California, which had earlier announced plans to try to stop the sale through legal means.

"We are very pleased with this outcome and wish to thank the consignor and PFC Auctions for their assistance in this matter," said John Heubusch, executive director of the foundation. He added that he was pleased the late president's blood will be kept "out of public hands."

The item being donated is a five-inch (12.5-centimeter) glass vial that is one half-inch in diameter and has a green rubber stopper. The auction house said it clearly contains traces of dried blood. It is said to have been taken from a laboratory that tested Reagan's blood for lead in the days after he was seriously wounded by a would-be assassin.

"While we contend that the removal of the vial from the hospital laboratory, and the U.S. auction sale in February 2012, were not legal acts in our opinion, we are grateful to the current custodian of the vial for this generous donation to the Foundation," Heubusch said.

Reagan's family, his foundation and his surgeon had earlier this week criticized the proposed sale. They said it was a violation of the family's privacy for medical items linked to his treatment to be sold on the open market.

Online bidding on the item had reached more than $30,000 when the sale was suspended. It had been set to conclude Thursday evening.

In its statement, the auction house, which is based in the Channel Islands between England and France, revealed new details about the aborted sale.

It said the seller had purchased the item at a public auction in the United States earlier this year for $3,550. It quoted the seller as saying he was a serious collector of presidential memorabilia who had donated to museums in the past.

"I would personally be delighted to see this important artifact put on public display by the Foundation," the seller said.

Reagan required emergency surgery after he was shot by John Hinckley Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel shortly after speaking to labor union officials on March 30, 1981. Hinckley fired six shots at the president from close range. All six missed, but one bullet ricocheted and hit Reagan.

The president was wounded just two months after taking office. He suffered a punctured lung and severe internal bleeding that required life-saving surgery.

His popular press secretary, James Brady, was left paralyzed after being shot. Two people protecting Reagan also were wounded.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He remains in a psychiatric facility in the Washington area but has been allowed to spend some time outside the facility with his family.