American Historical Autographs<br>From Joseph Rubinfine
By Michael Stillman
Joseph Rubinfine recently issued his "List 151" of American historical autographs. This is a wonderful collection of autographs, primarily as parts of manuscripts, some of which touch on particular historical events.
Americans enjoy greater freedoms than most peoples because the father of this nation was a most remarkable man. If power corrupts, then how do you explain George Washington? Here was a man with all the power anyone could dream of in his grasp, who instead chose to be true to his democratic principles. He subjected himself to elections, agreed to checks and balances over his authority, and when he felt it was time to move on, he let that power be transferred to others. If his signatures are a bit pricey today, it is because they deserve to be.
Of course most people think of Washington in his General-President-Father-of-his-nation role, but he was also a surveyor. That goes back a ways, but in 1750, the 18-year-old Washington was signing his documents not as "Gen." or "Pres.," but as "S.C.C." (Surveyor Culpeper County). Item 1 of the Rubinfine catalogue is a survey Washington conducted for David Edwards of 412 acres of "waste and ungranted Land" in Frederick County, Virginia. Priced at $37,500.
Item 2 is another very interesting Washington document. Written from Middlebrook, New Jersey, in 1779, with two Washington signatures (the second his frank on the address leaf), it informs General Alexander McDougall that an assistant paymaster has been sent with $400,000. It includes Washington's instructions on how the funds are to be applied. Part of it was to be used for encouraging re-enlistments. Naturally, money was less than plentiful at the time, so Washington tells McDougall, "You are so well convinced of the necessity of care and economy that I need say nothing on that head." Of course, he just did. Another great American figure also writes in this document, though his signature does not appear. Young Alexander Hamilton was an aide to Washington at the time, and the letter is actually in his handwriting. $35,000.
Here is one more Washington letter, but unlike the survey, it comes at the other end of his life, nearly 50 years later. It is a letter to Alexandria, Virginia, merchants Thompson and Veitch that came with a check for $500. He inquires about the availability of a vessel bound for England on which he can send some cured hams to a friend. The letter is dated August 30, 1799, just 3 1/2 months before Washington died. Item 4. $11,500.