Purchase Story

Alexander Hamilton Letter Leads Waverly Sale

Waverly Rare Books, Falls Church, Virginia

Photos courtesy Waverly Rare Books

Waverly Rare Books, a division of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, held a catalog auction of books, manuscripts, and maps on March 22 at Quinn’s showrooms in Falls Church, Virginia. Catherine Payling, newly appointed director of Waverly Rare Books (see M.A.D., September 2017, p. 40-A), and her staff had assembled an interesting cross-section of material for the sale, with a large selection of maps and travel-related material.

This letter dated September 14, 1794, is from Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to Samuel Hodgdon, superintendent of military stores. The letter involves Hamilton’s request that Hodgdon arrange the logistics for the movement of troops to western Pennsylvania, which was in response to rapidly escalating opposition to legislation imposing Federal taxes on distilled spirits. This episode in the early history of the United States is commonly referred to as the Whiskey Rebellion. The letter sold for $16,800 (est. $6000/9000).

This letter is from Revolutionary War hero Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, to a fellow Frenchman, Auguste Petit. The letter, dated March 12, 1826, was written from Lafayette’s residence, Château de la Grange-Bléneau in north central France. In the text, Lafayette is notifying Petit that he is sending samples of wool from a dozen different rams to him. The context of this specific exchange is not clear, although it is known that Lafayette did raise sheep on his estate.The signed letter is matted and housed under glass. It sold for $660 (est. $400/600).

The most prominent lot in the sale was a letter dated September 14, 1794, from Alexander Hamilton, written in his capacity as secretary of the treasury. The letter was written to Samuel Hodgdon, the superintendent of military stores, requesting Hodgdon’s attention to arranging logistics for moving troops to western Pennsylvania, as a show of Federal force against local opposition to a law enacted in 1791 that placed a tax on distilled spirits as a means of paying the country’s debts associated with the Revolutionary War. Farmers on the frontier had become accustomed to distilling their excess grain into whiskey, which was then used as a form of local currency.

General civil unrest surrounding enforcement of the law came to a head in 1794. At the time that this letter was written, the situation had escalated to the point that President Washington himself led troops to the area. By mid-October 1794 the massive show of force from Federal troops had subdued the rioters. This episode is commonly referred to as the Whiskey Rebellion and is considered to have been a contributing factor to the development of opposing political parties in the United States. The so-called “whiskey tax” was repealed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

The letter was consigned by the Hill House Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia, with proceeds from its sale going toward current restoration projects at the museum. Dan Schmit, vice president of the Historic Hill House Association, said that the Hamilton letter had been donated to Hill House by a private collector in the 1930s. It was listed as part of the collection but had never been displayed. The letter sold for $16,800 (includes buyer’s premium), more than double its low estimate, making it the high lot of the sale.

One of the most interesting lots offered at the Waverly sale was an archive related to the patenting of one of the world’s most ubiquitous tools, the ballpoint pen. László Bíró (1899-1985), a Hungarian inventor who fled the Nazis and resettled in South America, received a patent in Paris in 1938 for what would become the first commercially viable ballpoint pen. The archive included cutaways, two prototype pens, and a folio of correspondence related to the patent, and photos of the pen (two of four shown). The archive sold for $660 (est. $100/200).



Cutaway diagram of Bíró’s invention, drawn to scale.





Edgar Allan Poe’s masterwork “The Raven” was originally published under the pseudonym “Quarles” by The American Review. The January 29, 1845, issue of the New York Evening Mirror credited Poe (1809-1849) when it reprinted the poem. The book offered at the Waverly sale is one of 93 numbered volumes from a 1902 edition “by Quarles” that was illustrated, produced, and signed in Cleveland, Ohio, by Robert H. Perdue. This example is number nine of that edition, and it brought $450 (est. $200/400).



Ayn Rand’s final novel, Atlas Shrugged, is considered her best and has sold more than seven million copies. Rand (Russian-American, 1905-1982) is regarded as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century and is credited with developing “objectivism,” the philosophy that, among other things, emphasizes man’s free will as a major determinant in shaping his character and life achievements. Atlas Shrugged was published by Random House in 1957, and the book seen here is a first edition, offered in a first-state dust jacket. The work sold for $1800 (est. $400/700).

This copy of The Art Work of Louis C. Tiffany is one of a limited edition of 492 that were printed on Japon vellum. This is number 354. The book was produced by Tiffany himself and was published in 1914 by Doubleday, Page & Company. It contains 21 tipped-in color plates and 42 photogravures illustrating Tiffany’s wide range of contributions to the world of art and design. The front free end page is printed with a line of presentation text and signed by Tiffany. That page is printed with the date “May 1917.” This copy of the master craftsman’s work sold for $7200 (est. $2000/4000).

Works in leaded stained glass were some of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s most recognizable contributions to art and design. This is one of the pages from The Art Work of Louis C. Tiffany.

As a footnote, the Hamilton letter may have been the follow-up to a request that he had sent to Hodgdon on September 9, 1794. In that note Hamilton requested that Hodgdon provide a status report on the availability of “…accoutrements and arms available for Cavalry…” as well as what materials may have already “…been sent forward.” In the September 14 letter, Hamilton states that he had mislaid Hodgdon’s response regarding the availability of “Artillery in Tour,” and wished to know “…how many of them you are actually prepared to send off.” In October 2008, New Hampshire auctioneers Sanders & Mock Associates sold the September 9 note for $5040.

This copy of The Costume and Customs of Modern India by Captain Thomas Williamson offers a view of mid-19th-century India through the eyes of the ruling British. The scenes depicted in the volume are decidedly European, with native Indian figures assuming formal postures. The 20 hand-colored aquatint plates were engraved from drawings by Charles D’Oyly (British, 1781-1845). D’Oyly’s prolific artistry likely molded many westerners’ first impressions of India and its peoples. The book was published in London, 1824. This copy brought $1140 (est. $1000/1500).

Here is a fine copy of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Aubrey Beardsley provided the elegant decorations on the cover and spine of this volume and the illustrations and marginal decoration accompanying the text. This is the second edition to contain Beardsley’s illustrations. It was published in 1909 by E. P. Dutton. This example is one of 500 copies originally sold in the U.S., from a total edition of 1500. This volume sold for $420 (est. $300/500).

This first-edition copy of A Voyage Round the World by Archibald Campbell was published in Edinburgh for Archibald Constable and Company, 1816. The book chronicles the six-year travels of Campbell (1787-1821) and his crew aboard the Eclipse, traveling from England to the Pacific and northeastward from Japan to Russia then to the Aleutian Islands and ultimately to present-day Kodiak, Alaska. The frontispiece of this book is a folding 1807 map of “North West America” (the Alaskan Peninsula) and Kodiak Island, with Campbell’s route shown in red. The book sold for $2400 (est. $2000/4000).

In his introduction to Alphabet for Adults, Man Ray writes: “A letter always suggests a word, and a word always suggests a book.” In keeping with that idea, Ray (1890-1976) created a book illustrating the letters of the English alphabet. In his book he uses line drawings to suggest an image; the image suggests, to him, a story (a book); and the first letter of that story is a letter of the alphabet. For example, his drawing of an empty cocktail glass represents the letter “r”—it suggests a story associated with “regret.” Ray produced this work for the Copley Galleries, Beverly Hills, California, in 1948. This copy brought $1200 (est. $600/900).

The overall appearance of this map is very familiar. It is frequently referred to as simply “the John Smith map,” and there are countless variations of this westward view of the New World over the Chesapeake Bay to the mountainous wilderness beyond. The date of this specific example is not given. The catalog notes that this copy of Nova Virginiae Tabula is “taken from the first state of the Smith [map of Virginia], [and] it continues the coastlines where the former had left them vague….” (The Mapping of North America, Philip D. Burden). This map is likely a later impression of the original by Jodocus Hondius Jr. and was widely used throughout the mid-17th century. The map was presented framed and matted. It sold for $1320 (est. $800/1200).

Within the accompanying photos is information related to a book published by the Club of Odd Volumes. The private Boston club was formed in 1887 and has since that time published books that are first and foremost of interest to its members but that may also have broader appeal. I spoke with Thomas Boss, a rare book dealer in Boston, who is the publications director for the club. He provided a refreshing look at this interesting organization. He explained that its membership consists of individuals with “rather bookish and artistic tastes” and who “value their eccentricities.” Recent Odd Volumes publications include a volume on antique bookplates and, most recently, a compilation of humorous replies returned by Club of Odd Volumes members regarding reasons for their absence at club functions.

An unusually large number of maps and atlases had been consigned for this sale. Examples from virtually everywhere in the world were offered. Possibly owing to the number of available items, most of the maps sold at the lower range of their estimates.
For additional information, contact Waverly Rare Books at (703) 532-5632 or see the website  (www.quinnsauction.com) and select the Waverly Rare Books tab.

Mary Cabot Wheelwright (1878-1958) was an anthropologist who made the study of Native Americans of the American Southwest her life’s work. She wrote extensively on Navajo religious ceremonies. This volume, Hail Chant and Water Chant, was published in 1946 by the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico. (The museum has since been renamed The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.) Hail Chant and Water Chant is volume II of Wheelwright’s “Navajo Religion” series. Both the hail chant and water chant are now obsolete ceremonies, and Wheelwright’s documentation of the sand paintings and vocalizations associated with the ceremonies is one of the few remaining records. The book contains 24 color plates illustrating the chants and paintings. The book sold for $120 (est. $100/200).

James Atkinson (British, 1780-1852) was trained as a physician and found his way to India through his service with the Honourable East India Company. Atkinson became a Persian scholar and was fluent in several Asian languages. His talents extended to art, and he became a student of George Chinnery. He spent time in Afghanistan, where he created numerous sketches of the Afghan landscape and village life. This volume, Sketches in Afghaunistan [sic], published in London, 1842, includes 25 of the original 26 plates re-creating Atkinson’s images. The volume sold for $1680 (est. $2000/3000).

This first-issue copy of Roald Dahl’s modern children’s classic James and the Giant Peach was illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert and published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York City, 1961. The book, which brought $540 (est. $300/500), is in its original dust jacket and does exhibit some rubbing and make-do repair. Dahl (British, 1916-1990) may be best known for his next book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), or as co-writer of the screenplay adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

Originally published in the July 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

comments powered by Disqus
Web Design By Firefly Maine Maine Web Design