Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - October - 2007 Issue

American Historical Documents and Signatures from Joe Rubinfine

Rubinfine160

Document signed by Washington and Jefferson on cover of Joe Rubinfine's latest catalogue.


By Michael Stillman

Joe Rubinfine
has issued his List 160 of American Historical Autographs. Rubinfine regularly puts together top-level collections of important American signatures and documents. This catalogue is dominated by important political and military personalities, with a scattering of literary and other figures. There are presidents from Washington to Ike, generals from…well…Washington to Ike, Custer and Sioux warrior Rain In The face, writers such as Thoreau and Hawthorne, several signers of the Declaration of Independence, and a few poignant letters from widowed first ladies. Here are some samples.

Item 1, pictured on the cover of this catalogue, is a document signed by President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in 1793. In three languages (English, French, and Dutch) it assures every imaginable diplomat that Captain Joshua Merrill and the Brig Polly are American noncombatants engaged in peaceable trade. These were the days when the European powers were constantly either at war with one another or planning to start one. This document, signed by America's leaders, would hopefully reassure officials in St. Croix (where the ship was headed) and elsewhere the Polly was in no way connected to ongoing European hostilities. How could a ship named the Polly be warlike anyway? Priced at $22,000.

John Hancock signatures are among the most collectible of all American autographs for reasons obvious to anyone who has ever seen the Declaration of Independence. Item 9 is one of his signatures, as President of the Continental Congress, appointing Samuel Loring a Second Lieutenant in the infantry. It is dated January 1 of that famous year, 1776. $9,500.

Thomas Jefferson was not one of those presidents who became wealthy from his position. He was always battling debts, trying to find ways to pay them off. Item 14 is a letter from 1802 when he was serving as President to Dr. William Bache, Benjamin Franklin's grandson. He owed money to Franklin's grandson too. Fortunately, he is able to write Bache that his cousin, George Jefferson, has $143.33 waiting for him in Richmond. $25,000.

Documents from the presidency of William Henry Harrison are the hardest to find, Harrison surviving but one month in office. Those he signed as president are virtually impossible to find. Item 19 is the next best thing. It is a grant of land in Wisconsin to one Harvey Durkee, dated March 25, 1841, and signed with Harrison's name by his secretary, N.P. Cousin. A week later Harrison died. $1,750.

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