Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2005 Issue

Famous Signatures And Documents From The Raab Collection

Raab50

Catalogue 50 from The Raab Collection.


By Michael Stillman

Catalogue number 50 is now available from The Raab Collection. Raab specializes in signed documents and autographs. You won't find any obscure signatures in this collection. Every signature is from a name you will recognize, or from a person with some important place in history. This is a catalogue of the most collectible names from the past. Here are a few examples.

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were often on opposite sides when it came to plans for the new republic. Hamilton wanted to see the nation develop as an economic and trading power. Jefferson preferred to see an agrarian democracy. Hamilton had more success in promoting his ideas with President Washington. In 1789-90, he pushed through his program to levy taxes on imported goods, both to operate the government, and most importantly, pay off federal debts from the Revolution and assume those of the states. Jefferson had particularly opposed the assumption of states' debts. The initial duties were insufficient to cover these needs, and so in early 1790, it was necessary for the government to raise those fees. Item 3 is An Act for the Payment of the Debts of the United States, as passed by Congress and certified as a "true copy" by the Secretary of State. Ironically, Washington's Secretary of State whose duty it was to certify this copy was none other than Thomas Jefferson, who opposed many of the expenditures for which taxes had to be raised. Priced at $17,500.

It is probably the most recognizable signature of anyone in America. Item 4 is an example of John Hancock's "John Hancock." Hancock was President of the Continental Congress from 1775-77, and was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, in the boldest of signatures so the British could not miss it. Hancock would go on to serve as Governor of Massachusetts during most of the years from independence until his death in 1793. This item is the appointment of Peleg Chandler as coroner of Cumberland County (now part of Maine). The signature is the same flourished autograph which graces the Declaration of Independence. $6,000.

Item 13 is a most interesting document concerning Henry Clay's early days in Congress. Clay would go on to be best remembered for his compromises, his battles with Andrew Jackson, and his close but unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1844. However, he first came to Washington as one of the "war hawks," those who successfully pushed to have America go to war with Britain in 1812. One of the major causes, and one which led to great indignation on American shores, was the British habit of impressing U.S. sailors into their navy. The British still recognized these sailors as British subjects. But, once the war was over, America was unable to get Britain to renounce the right to this practice. In this 1839 letter to Robert Chilton, a very early photographer, Clay admits that America was not able to secure everything it wanted, but quit the war because it was "exhausted." Clay then points out that with Britain's various European wars which led to the impressments now over, she would not have any call to use the practice anyway, and the United States could go back to war refreshed if the practice resumed. It never did. $6,300.

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