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Historical Documents of "Distinguished American Collector"

Jeanne Schinto | December 19th, 2013

The sale’s top lot, a huge archive (nearly 140 letters) of George III correspondence addressed to the 2nd Earl of Shelburne, sold for $159,900 (est. $40,000/60,000) to an American bidding on the Internet.

This two-page letter signed big and bold by John Hancock as president of the Continental Congress sold for $21,600 (est. $8000/12,000). It was dated March 15, 1776, and addressed to the Provincial Convention of New York, telling them to get braced for war. This consigning collector had many items including this one put into folding cases. That enabled him to shelve them in his library, Marsha Malinowski said. In addition, “The collector, from time to time, would have dinner parties and take a few things out for show and tell. The folding cases allowed them to be shown.”

The folding case for the John Hancock letter included this engraving. Schinto photo.

A four-page autograph letter signed by John Quincy Adams fetched $10,800 (est. $4000/6000). As ex-president and member of the House of Representatives, he was writing to Russell Freeman of Boston on October 12, 1835, expressing his allegiance to his country rather than to a partisan political body. Five other John Quincy Adams letters sold within estimate.

A first edition presentation copy of A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America by John Adams sold to a private collector on the phone for $120,000 (est. $20,000/30,000). Published in London in 1787, it was in its original boards and inscribed and signed by Adams to Richard Henry Lee, Virginia’s delegate to the Continental Congress. Adams’s major work was also signed by John Quincy Adams. We’re told that there will be more books to come in part four.

On June 20, 1775, three days after the Battle of Bunker Hill, these four pages in a secretarial hand were sent by Elbridge Gerry to the Massachusetts members of the American Continental Congress. Docketed and with a few emendations by the Declaration of Independence signer, this eyewitness account of the historic conflict sold for $27,000 (est. $8000/12,000). It had previously belonged to bibliophile Philip D. Sang, whose collection was sold by Sotheby Parke Bernet in April 1978. That provenance gave it a little more clout than Elbridge Gerry materials already have.

This copy of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, wittily inscribed to the co-authors of the novel’s screenplay, sold for an impressive $19,200 (est. $4000/6000). “For Albert [Hackett] and Frances [Goodrich],” Hammett wrote on the flyleaf, “who Hunting over dale and Dyke, gave it to millions where I only gave it to Eddie Knopf’s brother.” Hunt Stromberg produced and W.S. Van Dyke directed the film.

Douglas MacArthur’s 75 love letters to his first wife, Louise Brooks MacArthur, sold for $78,000 (est. $30,000/50,000). They are signed varyingly as the relationship changes. From “Douglas MacArthur,” “Douglas” and “Doug,” the general progressed to “Demon,” “Hubby,” “Dapple,” “Deemie,” “Lonely,” “Kid B,” “He Wasza,” and “Dapp.” The transmittal envelopes were included, nearly all in MacArthur’s hand.

This two-page autograph letter signed by Victor Hugo on the subject of Les Misérables, together with a note on the same subject, fetched $16,800 (est. $4000/6000).

A copy of Description du Sacre et du Couronnement de leurs Majestés Impériales l’Empereur Alexandre II et l’Impératrice Marie Alexandrovna sold for $66,000 (est. $20,000/30,000). The extravagantly illustrated 36¼" x 27" gilt-edged volume was given to guests who attended the coronation of Alexander II in 1855.

This four-page letter signed by Oscar Wilde brought $15,600 (est. $4000/6000). He wrote it to Walter Hamilton on January 29, 1889, on an interesting subject, parodies. “One’s disciples can parody one—nobody else,” he told the author of The Aesthetic Movement in England.

Profiles in History, Calabasas Hills, California

Photos courtesy Profiles in History

On December 19, 2013, in Calabasas Hills, California, Profiles in History held its third sale of historical documents from a “Distinguished American Private Collector.” Of the 219 lots on the block, only 17 minor ones were unsold. Of the 95% that did sell, only one went below estimate. Many achieved prices above, some far above. As a result, another $2,433,585 (including buyers’ premiums) was added to this single collection’s running tally. That brings the total to approximately $11,500,000 so far, and a fourth sale is scheduled for the first or second week in May.

We asked Marsha Malinowski, the auction house’s senior consultant in charge of books and manuscripts, if the collector felt bittersweet about seeing his collection go. She replied, “I think so, but I also think he sees that he chose wisely way back when. He has seen some very strong prices.” The collector remains anonymous, but Malinowski said he is someone who started “really actively buying” in the 1980’s. While he hasn’t started a new collection of anything, she doesn’t rule that out for the future.

Going at $159,900, the top lot this time was a rich archive of George III correspondence with the 2nd Earl of Shelburne, who negotiated the peace after our war for independence. Of the nearly 140 letters, most bore dates from the crucial period, 1782-83, when the negotiations took place. Forty are unpublished. Referring to the “dismemberment of America from this Empire,” the king opined in one letter that “knavery” was the “striking feature” of Americans. Undoubtedly, he was none too flattering in other remarks about us in pages that mention John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and a host of British statesmen. Nonetheless, there was keen interest for this lot among Americans, and an American won it, just as we knaves won the war.

Malinowski said the archive had come to the collector all of a piece, having passed through Sotheby’s in London in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. She decided not to break it up for this sale. Even if it would have yielded more money that way, which she doubted, she didn’t want to disturb its integrity, and it was she who had the sole discretion in the matter.

“This is one of those rare and wonderful moments in my career, when I was able to pick and choose every item for each of the sales and catalog and group them as I saw fit,” said Malinowski, who came to Profiles in History after more than 26 years at Sotheby’s in New York City. “I had no orders. I was asked just to choose wisely and put together strong sales.” She added, “There just aren’t that many collectors that you can do that with. Most have preconceived notions and special ways of wanting things to be done. In this case, [the collector] relied on my expertise and ability to put together sales that would attract an international audience.”

Live bidders are sparse at these auctions, which take place in a small, affluent city west of the San Fernando Valley. It doesn’t matter. “There were more phones this time, and there were many more absentee bidders,” said Malinowski. “So there were more bids in the book before we even started, which I think showed the confidence the audience has in our sales,” and showed that they knew their bids “would be acknowledged properly.”

Every collecting field yearns for new blood. We asked this veteran if there was any indication of it in her field, based on this sale. “It’s been interesting to see that there is,” she replied. “And I’ve noticed that some of the new blood is bidding on line.” (Whether new blood or not, the winner of the top lot was an on-line bidder.) “I also noticed that some others, who are known quantities in different areas of the auction world, were bidding on manuscripts. I found that a little surprising but very interesting, so I suspect some of my cross-marketing worked.”

Americana was just one of this sale’s many strengths, with George Washington material, a special interest of this collector, being a standout—again. “I’ve put ten or eleven Washington items into each sale, and there’s still more to come,” Malinowski said. “It’s a lot for the market to absorb—I’ve been parceling them out—and I’m thrilled to have that quantity of Washington all do so well.” Malinowski characterized herself as having been “always a Thomas Jefferson kind of girl.” But in working with this material, she said, “I’ve grown very fond of our number one man. He was intensely gifted on so many different levels. I don’t know who else could have done it,” i.e., led the Revolution, then the nascent government.

Written at Mount Vernon on August 15, 1798, to the Reverend Jonathan Boucher, a two-page autograph letter signed by Washington sold for $72,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). “Peace, with all the world is my sincere wish,” Washington told his close friend, a Loyalist, who had returned to England after the Revolution. He was writing during our undeclared naval war with France after the so-called XYZ Affair. The “Disturbers of Mankind” was how Washington referred to those who would cause us to arm for self-defense. He clearly wanted us to be neutral. As Malinowski noted in her description, the word “Peace” is in lettering twice as large as any other word in this lengthy missive. If the fantastic content had been matched by its condition, another zero would likely have been added to the price. Unfortunately, the letter had restoration; a section was replaced, a small one, but it included the “G” and “W” of the signature.

A bidder paid $42,000 (est. $30,000/50,000) for a letter in pristine condition that reveals a radically different side of Washington. In a three-page autograph manuscript signed twice, the former president attended to his financial future after leaving office. Very much the lord of the manor, he wrote in December 1797 about parcels of land, real-estate transactions, and lease agreements for his more than 23,000 acres of property. A detail man to the core, he calculated for rentals through 1897!

A section of Jefferson letters revealed different sides of another multifaceted genius. An autograph letter signed by him as secretary of state was addressed to the Spanish foreign minister. Its aim was improved relations with Spain. Dated April 11, 1790, and written in New York, the single page sold to an Internet bidder for $19,680 (est. $15,000/20,000). Just a few months later, on August 31, 1790, this man of parts wrote in vivid detail a manuscript document inventorying what was bound for Monticello, as the new government moved from New York City to Philadelphia. Besides tables, chairs, mattresses, candlesticks, earthenware, bedsteads, “1 green stool,” and “30 green chairs,” he enumerated “58 bacon hams” and “10 bottles of cyder.” That single unsigned page sold for $7200 (est. $4000/6000).

There was also an 1804 letter by Jefferson to a cherished childhood friend living in England amid continued hostilities between their two countries. That sold just above estimate for $15,600. Another, in which he showed himself willing to embrace new technology, arranged for a new spinning machine to be delivered to Monticello before the start of the War of 1812. It went for $12,000 (est. $10,000/15,000).

A 20th-century trove was the second to top lot of the sale, going at $78,000 (est. $30,000/50,000). It was an archive of 75 letters by General Douglas MacArthur—love letters. The over 400 pages were handwritten to MacArthur’s first wife, Louise Brooks MacArthur (d. 1965), an American divorcée. The letters began in 1921, when the couple met. They continued through their courtship, engagement, and marriage. Quite steamy at times (“I have been drunk with the intoxication of you all day”), they also cover such things as MacArthur’s thoughts about leaving West Point after reassignment to Manila by Pershing, who’d previously had an affair with Brooks. Despite MacArthur’s declaration that “All my life I shall love you, and glorify you, and worship you...,” this four-year run of letters ended in 1925, and the marriage dissolved four years later. According to Malinowski, this is the largest MacArthur archive ever to be auctioned, but instead of going to a MacArthur collector, the lot “went to someone who has a penchant for collecting love letters.”

International items this time included a few Russian lots, each of which did extremely well. “I had been a little bit gun-shy about putting too much Russian material in sales one and two,” said Malinowski, “because the market had been so up and down. I think it was worth waiting.”

Going at $66,000 (est. $20,000/30,000) was a copy of the super-sumptuous coronation album issued privately on the occasion of Alexander II’s ascension to the throne in 1855. It was given to guests who attended the event, so it might be considered one of the most extravagant goodie bags ever devised. Description du Sacre et du Couronnement de leurs Majestés Impériales l’Empereur Alexandre II et l’Impératrice Marie Alexandrovna is illustrated with a tinted folding panorama of Moscow and other images of Russian splendor and wealth, many of them full-page chromolithographs. Malinowski said the volume was bought by a dealer who she strongly suspects was acting as agent for a European client.

The autograph manuscript diary/daybook of Alexander II and Marie Alexandrovna’s second son, Alexander III, sold to a private European phone bidder for $33,000, more than twice the high estimate. It is a copiously detailed record of the quotidian events (appointments, weather, et cetera) of 1894, the last year of this czar’s life. An Internet bidder paid $14,760 (est. $8000/12,000) for a letter written by an 18th-century czar, Peter I. The Russian text on a single page concerns prototypes for a sword handle he favored and a reprieve for a prisoner who, he said, should not be exiled after all.

This collector seems especially to have liked collecting material with potent associations. To mention only one example among many, this sale featured several letters between parents and children. One of those pairs was the Western outlaw John Wesley Hardin and his son. On July 3, 1887, from Texas State Prison in Huntsville, Hardin wrote words of advice to him, surprisingly eloquent. Repeatedly, he urged his boy to cleave to “the truth” (“pluck it..., and carry it with you to your work, to school, at home, lie down to rest with it...”). If he did that, Hardin tried to convince him, justice would follow. The one-page autograph letter signed sold above its estimate on the Internet for $9225.

An autograph letter signed from Ronald Reagan to his daughter Patti is sad stuff, no matter how one feels about the legacy of the former actor’s eight years in the Oval Office. The two pages, written when he was nearly 81, were a plea to meet with Patti before she went ahead with publication of her autobiography/family exposé. “We were not a dysfunctional family,” he protested. “Was it dysfunctional to man the hot dog stand at our every year affair at your school?” The book, The Way I See It, was published in 1992. The letter, probably written that same year, brought $9600 (est. $8000/12,000).

The two pages that Samuel Clemens wrote in Hartford on July 16, 1889, to his daughter Susy, concerning her plans for authorship, present quite a contrast. Apparently a comment on something that she had written for possible publication, the autograph letter signed “Papa” was more than encouraging. “I knew you could write, if you would take the pains,” he told her in part. “One doesn’t have to learn to write­—anew: no, that art is already acquired; he has only to write slowly for a while. I don’t see that anything else is necessary.” It was signed, “Good-bye sweetheart, I love you.” With its original stamped envelope hand-addressed by Clemens, the letter sold for $5700 (est. $4000/6000).

The science lots from this collection performed consistently well in parts one and two; they did the same in part three. Over 100 letters and documents from the files of Lewis Strauss (1896-1974), chair of the Atomic Energy Commission in the mid-1950’s, sold within estimate for $39,000. The group included correspondence from Herbert Hoover, Enrico Fermi, Robert Millikan, Robert Oppenheimer, John Foster Dulles, and Warren Burger. They covered such things as nuclear policy and diplomacy, weapons, testing, and disarmament, as well as peacetime uses of nuclear power. Nice archive for an institution, one would think, but Malinowski said it went to an individual “who has bought only one other manuscript in his entire [30-year] collecting career.” She described him as “a huge collector of other things,” who subsequently sold that first manuscript. “When he noticed this lot in the catalog, he asked me to show it to him, and when he saw it, he decided that he just had to have it.”

Private previewing of part three took place for some by appointment in Manhattan, where Malinowski is based. For others, the public previews on the West Coast were convenient. Still others felt confident enough to rely solely on the catalog descriptions and Internet images, which could be zoomed to inspect minute details. There may be a public preview of part four during the New York book fair of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (April 3-6). Meanwhile, Malinowski is working on making her fourth catalog’s selections.

“All along, I have tried to choose very wisely and group things appropriately,” she said. “Cataloging it properly, photographing it properly, getting the word out—all that has to happen. But the bottom line is that when you have great material, people will come and people will bid.”

For more information, contact the auction house at (310) 859-7701 or see the Web site (

Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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