Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2006 Issue

Signed Documents by the Famed and Their Families from Joe Rubinfine

List157

A new collection of autographed documents from Joe Rubinfine.


By Michael Stillman

Joe Rubinfine of West Palm Beach, Florida, has issued his List 157 of American Historical Autographs. As always, Rubinfine offers a group of documents signed by people you know, or at least people whose places in history are familiar. That latter category includes people like Oliver Wolcott, Caesar Rodney, Richard Stockton, Edward Rutledge and Robert Morris. If their names don't immediately jump out at you, you will recognize their signatures as being highly collectible when you realize they were signers of the Declaration of Independence. Most of the other names herein, however, will be more familiar without the explanation. Here are a few of the names and their documents now being offered by Joe Rubinfine.

Item 34 is a touching but very sad letter from Robert Todd Lincoln, the only one of Abraham Lincoln's four children to survive to adulthood. Robert Lincoln served as Secretary of War in the early 1880s, and at the time of this letter, was the U.S. Minister to Great Britain. Robert had three children, one son and two daughters, meaning that young Abraham Lincoln II, known as "Jack," was the last possible descendant to carry forward the Lincoln name. However, at the time of this letter, January 13, 1890, Jack was seriously ill in France. His father writes to an evident friend that the French doctors have said "il est perdue" (he is lost). Robert recognizes that the odds are against his son, but an English or American doctor thinks he has a better chance if moved to England. "I now feel that he is sure to die remaining here & that a slender chance is given him by taking him away..." Robert did remove his son to England, but on March 5, Abraham II died at the age of 16. That spelled an end to the name "Lincoln" in the President's line. Ultimately, Robert's two daughters produced three grandchildren, but none of them had heirs. The President's line ended when his twice married but childless great-grandchild Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith died in 1985 at the age of 81. Priced at $3,000.

Here is another letter from a presidential relative, a much happier one, though the writer experienced terrible tragedy in her life. The writer is Anna Harrison, widow of President William Henry Harrison; the recipient was her grandson J. Cleves Short Harrison. The letter is chatty, filled with news about aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors. Mrs. Harrison tells her grandson to be sure to read the Bible and attend church, and "never think yourself too old or large to learn any thing that is good or usefull." Anna had the shortest stint as first lady as her presidential husband took sick and died after only one month in office. Anna herself was ill at the time of his inauguration, never making it to the White House (William Henry died as she was planning the trip from Ohio to Washington, which she then cancelled). At the time of this letter, January 26, 1847, not only was her husband gone, but nine of her ten children had died, including Cleves' father, yet Anna would live for another 17 years. She resided with her one surviving child, John Scott Harrison, and when his wife died three years after this letter was written, she would help raise her grandson, future President Benjamin Harrison. Anna would outlive a whole slew of grandchildren as well, but J. Cleves would survive to have a successful banking career in Indiana and later retire to Los Angeles. His L.A. home is an official Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument. Item 47. $2,500.

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