Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - September - 2009 Issue

100 American Historical Documents from the William Reese Co.

Reese270

One Hundred American Historical Manuscripts from William Reese.


By Michael Stillman

The William Reese Company has issued its 270th catalogue, this one entitled One Hundred American Historical Manuscripts. We always appreciate titles that succinctly describe what the catalogue contains. It makes our job easier. We will just add that these manuscripts range from those of major historical importance to those from obscure people who witnessed interesting events and changes in early American life. Here are a few of the one hundred Reese is offering.

We will start with what we consider the most significant piece in this very interesting collection. Item 52 is a letter from Thomas Jefferson, dated June 8, 1792, while he was serving as Secretary of State, to a good friend in France, Jean Antoine Gautier. It touches on important issues in both America and France. In America, we were just starting to see the split, notably between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, which led to the two-party system that has ruled the nation to this day. Meanwhile in France, the revolution that promised to bring that nation a democratic and constitutional government similar to America, was just starting to spin out of control, and into the bloodthirsty chaos that would erupt shortly. In a stinging comment aimed at Hamilton and those who shared his federalist sympathies, Jefferson writes, "there are heads among us itching for crowns, coronets, and mitres. But I hope we shall sooner cut them off than gratify their itching." This cutting off of heads comment must have sounded harsh to Gautier for, as Reese notes, the French government had introduced the guillotine a few months earlier as the official means of execution. That device would see a lot of use in the days ahead as the revolution spun into the infamous Reign of Terror (the French King would have his head cut off less than eight months after the writing of this letter). However, it must be noted that Jefferson had no idea at the time how bad things would become in France. He was still hopeful France would adopt a constitution similar to that of America. "[O]ur constitution is a wise one, and I hope we shall be able to adhere to it," writes Jefferson. He then proffers the advice, "If your first assay is unsuccessful as ours was, make a second as we did. When you have got what is good, hold it fast as we do." Priced at $145,000.

Speaking of Alexander Hamilton, he was America's first Secretary of the Treasury, assigned the task of managing the enormous financial problems of a nation heavily in debt from the Revolution. However, in 1782, he was still a private citizen, recently resigned from the military with the Revolution effectively over, in need of money. On February 17, he sent this letter to Jeremiah Wadsworth, who had also served in the Revolution and would go on to be a major banker. Writes the cash-strapped Hamilton, "Having met with some disappointment in a sum I expected to receive, I should be much obliged of you for the loan of an hundred pounds..." Item 40. $5,000.

Item 20 is a manuscript deed/sale of 216 square miles of land in upstate New York, northwest of Albany, along the Mohawk River. The date was December 28, 1738, and the seller was the Mohawk Indians, the buyer King George II. It is signed by six Mohawk chiefs, who "...have bargained, sold released, and for ever quit claim unto our said most gracious sovereign Lord King George the Second..." One imagines the King's representatives helped the Indians with the wording. The price for the land was 180 pounds. That's about one-quarter of a cent per acre. $37,500.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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