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Historic May 25th Sotheby's Auction

Several of the most exciting original documents that we have ever worked on are coming to auction at Sotheby’s on May 25th. If you are at all inspired by the American story, please check out Two Centuries of American History. The auction flows from John Hancock’s signed Protest Against Taxation Without Representation in 1768 (lot 3) to Ronald Reagan stating that he will not “present myself as a candidate” for the presidency in 1968 (lot 94).

We collaborated with Sotheby’s on this sale and are particularly honored to be offering the Emancipation Proclamation (lot 78, est. $1,500,000-2,000,000) and the Thirteenth Amendment—abolishing slavery (lot 79, est. $2,000,000-3,000,000). We've handled nearly all of the comparable documents to have come on the market in the last 30 years, but this is the first time ever that examples of the two greatest Lincoln-signed documents are on the market at the same time. A unique opportunity.

There are also important Lincoln imprints with two or three fewer zeroes in the estimates, including a unique certification that he is "a Man of Good Moral Character," ironically necessary as a first step to enter the bar (56).

Several of today's hot-button issues are represented. For instance, the first path to citizenship (for free whites, anyway) is laid out in the 1790 Naturalization Act signed by Thomas Jefferson (25). A detailed letter by James Madison contrasts the Constitution vs. Common Law (49). Harry Truman's 1937 speech argues that the Supreme Court was packed against progressives, so FDR's plan was needed to unpack it (88).

Alexander Hamilton is here in two signed letters as Secretary of the Treasury (28-29, $4,000-$7,000 each), as is a book answering for his sex scandal, reprinted in 1800 by his enemies (34). So is Haym Salomon—a prized name in American Judaica. Besides financing the Revolutionary War, Salomon was twice caught as a spy and escaped British captivity (16, est.$15,000-$20,000). 

Thomas Jefferson is in the room again, with his signed transmittal of the act establishing the US foreign service (24); a rare letter of explorer Meriwether Lewis, serving as Jefferson’s secretary, inviting Dolly Madison to dinner (where ice cream was served) (38) and a Jefferson letter zinging the federalists (39). An incredibly rare 1806 Thomas Jefferson Presidential Address briefing Congress on British impressment of American Seamen, a prelude to the War of 1812 (40). 

Trade & tariffs, infrastructure, banking & government are subjects of Henry Clay’s 1832 classic Senate speech “In Defense of the American System,” a highlight of American political and economic history. Clay’s speaking notes and his 67-page Autograph Manuscript sent for printing are offered together for the first time. (53, est. $200,000-400,000)  

There are rare Signers of the Declaration, and leaders such as John Adams reporting the capture of 55 British ships (11); Ben Franklin’s proposals for the humane conduct of war (14); George Washington’s letter feigning insult and teasing James McHenry: “Do not, my dear Doctor, tease your mistress in this manner—much less your Wife, when you get one…”  (15)

Rare Books include Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, first Boston printing, 1776 (5); a Jefferson associate’s copy of the Declaration of Independence in the Journals of Congress, Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, first American edition, with Jefferson’s Virginia Religious Freedom Act (23, est. $5,000-$7,000); Acts of Congress, including the Bill of Rights, signed by Supreme Court Justice William Paterson (27).

Then there’s Susan B. Anthony’s 1871 “Appeal to the women of the United States” (83); an FDR letter blaming the depression on the Hoover administration (86); Harry Truman re his message recognizing Israel’s independence (90); Ike’s Signed D-Day message (91); a John F. Kennedy Assassination 142" UPI telegraph roll (92); Robert F. Kennedy’s draft message supporting Johnson’s right to choose his Vice President (93).

The sale's least expensive offering, estimated at $400-600, is an important Civil Rights imprint (89). I almost omitted mentioning a Madison letter relating to the Barbary pirates (37), a great Andrew Jackson letter planning to take Spanish Florida (46), illustrated coffin broadsides opposing bloody Jackson (50-51); and a scarce fair copy of America the Beautiful penned by Katherine Lee Bates (84). Even with all of the above, there are still more great items to be found in this auction.

Viewing at Sotheby's is open to the public Saturday May 21, 10 am-5 pm; Sunday May 22, 1 pm-5 pm; Monday-Tuesday May 23-24, 10 am-5 pm; Wednesday May 25, 10 am-12 pm. The sale follows at 2 pm. You're invited! View a list of the items in the sale here or the entire catalog here.

Our work with Sotheby’s and consignors on this sale precludes our usual role representing buyers. But I will happily provide unvarnished advice and answer questions you might have about anything in this sale, or about historic documents generally. 




Leaves From George Washington’s Own Draft of His First Inaugural Address

“This Constitution, is really in its formation a government of the people”

George Washington understood that the new government’s success, as had the Constitutional Convention’s, rested squarely on his shoulders. He also knew that everything he did as the first president would set precedents for future generations. He wrote privately about the promise, ambiguity, and tension of high office, and these same themes are woven throughout his original, undelivered inaugural address. Would the government work as intended, or suffer death from a thousand cuts? Still, the former Commander in Chief recognized the nation’s potential, as well as the honorable men who had come together to build the Constitution.

The three unique leaves—six pages—offered here are written entirely in Washington’s hand. They include assertions that government power is derived from the people, and a highly significant section of the Address explicitly arguing that the Constitution is subject to amendment and, by implication, advocating the adoption of the Bill of Rights. They also include the oratorical climax of the address—arguably the most visionary and impassioned passage of the address.

GEORGE WASHINGTON. Autograph Manuscript, Pages 27-28, 35-36, and 47-48 of Washington’s own draft of his undelivered inaugural address. [written ca. January 1789]. 6 pp. on 3 leaves, 7 x 9 in.

Inventory #23845-47      $1,200,000

Rockwell’s “Barbershop Quartet”

Large pencil and charcoal study for Saturday Evening Post cover published September 26, 1936.

NORMAN ROCKWELL. Painting/Drawing Signed. Study for “Barbershop Quartet.” Charcoal and colored pencil on paper, 1936. Signed “Norman Rockwell” in red block-letters on lower right. Also inscribed lower center, “N’oubliez jamais ‘Le Bon Dieu’ ” (Never forget the Good Lord) and signed by Rockwell again in red pencil on the lower left, along with his friends Mead Schaeffer and Fairfax Ayres. 25¾ x 34¾ in.

Inventory #23863       Price On Request

Albert Einstein Counsels His Son
on the Meaning of Life

“We don’t want creatures to suffer unnecessarily, but that alone is not a goal that can make life worth living. Because the balance between happiness and pain remains rather negative, and the goal might rather be achieved most perfectly by destroying life. All my life I have troubled myself with problems and am always – as on the first day – inspired by the fact that cognition in the scientific and artistic sense is the best thing we possess… If one hears the angels singing a couple of times during one’s life, one can give the world something and one is a particularly fortunate and blessed individual.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN. Autograph Letter Signed (“Papa”), in German, to his son Eduard (“Tetel” for “petit”). [December 27, 1932]. 2 pp, 8½ x 11 in.

Inventory #23789       Price: $48,000

History You Can Own

We can help you enjoy an inspirational connection to your favorite historic figure, event, or idea.

Important documents and artifacts can be loaned, placed on deposit, or donated to ensure their survival for generations to come. Seth Kaller, Inc. can coordinate all aspects of collection-building, including acquisition, authentication, appraisal, conservation, framing, insurance, and recognition for your family, your company, or your foundation. 

Items presented here are drawn from our broad inventory. We have many more original documents and collections, ranging from $100 to millions of dollars, please contact us if you have specific interests.

Authenticity Guaranteed
We unconditionally guarantee the authenticity of our documents. We verify authenticity through our own expertise and archival research, as well as in consultation with independent experts and institutions. Client references furnished on request.

Seth Kaller is a leading expert in acquiring, authenticating, and appraising rare historic documents and artifacts. Kaller has built museum-quality collections for individuals and institutions, as well as legacy collections for philanthropists to donate. He has handled important manuscripts, documents and rare books relating to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution; leaves from George Washington’s draft of his inaugural address; Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” manuscript and signed copies of the Thirteenth Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation; and Robert E. Lee’s farewell to his troops. 

We are members of the Professional Autograph Dealers Association (PADA), Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) and the Manuscript Society.


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