Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2004 Issue

An Amazing Collection of Autographs<br>Offered by Catherine Barnes

Cover

Catherine Barnes&#146; Historical Autographs and Documents


By Michael Stillman

Catherine Barnes’ Catalogue 27, “Historical Autographs & Documents,” offers 130 famous autographs, and, in most cases, quite a lot more. While a few are just autographs, and some are fairly mundane documents, others are fascinating letters that reveal the hidden personal lives of early public figures. Considering there were no tabloids in those days to display every detail of their personal activities, letters are one of the few sources that can show the human side to these towering figures we rarely see.

For example, Item 25 is a letter from Benjamin Franklin to the mayor of Burlington, New Jersey. While Franklin was a very successful man, his youngest and favorite sister, Jane Mecom, had a tough life. She was usually short of money and her children had many problems. Two suffered from mental issues and had to be institutionalized. Franklin paid for the care of each. This letter came in response to a letter from the mayor saying that Benjamin Mecom was “Depriv’d of his Reason” and requesting that Franklin have him placed in a hospital. In response, the American statesmen says that he had had Mecom put in a hospital but that he had escaped and returned to Burlington. Franklin goes on to say that if his sister can send him back to the hospital, he will pay the costs, or pay for his nephew’s care elsewhere if that can be arranged. Ultimately, care was arranged for Mecom in Burlington, but sadly, he again escaped and this time was never found, probably dying nearby. This letter is of particular interest considering its date, July 23, 1776, less than three weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin must have had a lot on his mind in those days. Priced at $25,000.

Teddy Roosevelt was noted as a big game hunter among many other things. After leaving office as president, Roosevelt embarked on a year-long African safari. Near the end of this time, he wrote a letter to naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton. “I have found that many antelopes here…deposit their dung in particular spots,” Roosevelt informs his friend, thereby adding to the naturalist’s knowledge of wild beasts. Roosevelt then goes on to question whether monogamy is universal among lions. “It is undoubtedly common to find a lion and lioness together, but it is equally common, indeed I think it is much more common to find an entirely different arrangement, say one lion and three lionesses…” It seems that Roosevelt found that lions, and antelope, have much in common with us. Item 62. $6,500.

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