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Revolution and Founding Fathers (1765 - 1784)
Revolution and Founding Fathers (1765 - 1784)

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Boston Newspaper Publishes Former Governor Hutchinson’s Letters

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR], The Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, December 11, 1775. Watertown, Massachusetts: Benjamin Edes. 4 pp., 10 x 15¼ in.

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This newspaper features a masthead by noted silversmith and engraver Paul Revere, first used on January 1, 1770. The masthead features an illustration of a seated woman on the right with a laurel wreath on her brow and a lance with a liberty cap in her hand and the shield of Britain at her feet. She is opening the door to a birdcage and releasing a dove. A tree adorns the left side, and a town is visible in the distance. Beneath the image is the epigram, “Containing the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.

This issue publishes a series of letters from Thomas Hutchinson in the late 1760s, demonstrating that Hutchinson had sought the post of governor. The publication of these and other letters by Hutchinson convinced many that he had conspired with Parliament to deprive the American colonists of their rights. Hutchinson left Boston for England in early 1774, and his request for leave was granted. General Thomas Gage replaced him as governor of Massachusetts Bay in May 1774, but Hutchinson’s letters continued, even in December 1775, to be evidence to American patriots that the British sought to strip them of their rights.

Item #27304, $2,500

General Hugh Mercer’s Will—Noting the Plantation he Purchased from George Washington (Ferry Farm, Washington’s Boyhood Home), and Instructions to Executors to “hire negroes” to Work the Plantation for the Benefit of his Wife and Children

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR. SLAVERY. GEORGE WASHINGTON]. HUGH MERCER, Manuscript Document, Contemporary Copy of Last Will and Testament, March 20, 1776, Fredericksburg, Virginia. 4 pp., 7½ x 11⅝ in.

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I direct that after my decease my dear Wife Isabella (if she survive me) and my children do reside on my plantation in King George County adjoining to Mr James Hunter’s Land which Plantation I purchased from General George Washington and that my Executors hereafter named out of my personal Estate purchase or hire negroes as they shall think best to work the said Plantation....

I further direct my Books Drugs surgical Instruments shop utensils and Furniture to be sold and also such Household Furniture Negroes or stocks of Cattle and Horses as may appear to my Executors hereafter named to be for the benefit of my Personal Estate....

Written shortly after Hugh Mercer became the colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Virginia Line, his last will and testament disposed of his real and personal property, including slaves among his wife Isabella Gordon Mercer and children, including one yet to be born.

After playing a key role in the Battles of Trenton, in January 1777 at the Battle of Princeton, Mercer’s horse was shot from under him, and he was mortally wounded. Vastly outnumbered and mistaken by the British for George Washington, he was ordered to surrender. Instead, he drew his sword, and was bayonetted seven times. He died nine days later.

Item #27335, $12,500

Defending Georgia Against the Spanish in War of Jenkins’ Ear. Scarce Example of the Oldest Regularly Published Newspaper in America

[EUROPEAN AND COLONIAL NEWS], Boston Weekly News-Letter, January 31, 1740. Boston: John Draper. 2 pp., 13½ x 18½ in. Includes handwritten “Revd Mr Samll Cooke (at Bridger’s)” inscription in margin of first page.

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This issue of the Boston Weekly News-Letter features a report of early conflicts between the British and French empires in coastal Georgia in the early stages of the War of Jenkin’s Ear.

Item #27367, $3,250

Acquittal of Printer John Peter Zenger in Colonial New York Establishes Foundation for American Freedom of the Press

[JOHN PETER ZENGER], The Trial of John Peter Zenger, Of New-York, Printer: Who was charged with having printed and published a Libel against the Government; and acquitted. With a Narrative of his Case. To which is now added, being never printed before, The Trial of Mr. William Owen, Bookseller, near Temple-Bar, Who was also Charged with the Publication of a Libel against the Government; of which he was honourably acquitted by a Jury of Free-born Englishmen, Citizens of London, 1st ed. London: John Almon, 1765. Three-quarter olive calf, red morocco spine label, stamped in blind and in gilt, over marbled paper-covered boards; some sunning to leather; all edges trimmed. 60 pp., 5 x 8.25 in.

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It is not the cause of a poor printer...it is the cause of liberty.

This volume, printed in London three decades after John Peter Zenger’s trial, illustrates the continuing relevance of his acquittal to the freedom of the press. The volume also includes the story of William Owen, a London bookseller, who had been prosecuted for libel at the request of the House of Commons in 1752. Like Zenger, Owen was also acquitted by a jury.

John Almon, a publisher and bookseller known for his commitment to the freedom of the press, printed the volume as part of his challenge to governmental censorship of the press. In the same year that Almon published this pamphlet, the attorney general prosecuted him for the publication of a pamphlet entitled Juries and Libels, but the prosecution failed.

Item #27745, $3,500

Thomas Paine Encourages Americans in the Wake of Brandywine Defeat in Newspaper of One of the First Women Publishers

[THOMAS PAINE; REVOLUTIONARY WAR], The Connecticut Courant and Hartford Weekly Intelligencer, September 22, 1777. Hartford: Hannah Watson. 4 pp., 10 x 16½ in.

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Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.” (p2/c2)

We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.” (p3/c1)

This first issue of The Connecticut Courant and Hartford Weekly Intelligencer publishedafter the death of editor and publisher Ebenezer Watson at age 33 features No. 4 of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis, a series of sixteen pamphlets, published over the pseudonym “Common Sense.” Paine was serving as a volunteer aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene and sent dispatches to Philadelphia newspapers about events in the field. Paine wrote sixteen pamphlets in the series, which he entitled The American Crisis, issued in thirteen numbered pamphlets and three additional unnumbered ones between December 1776 and 1783. His first number began with the famous sentence, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Item #27406, SOLD — please inquire about other items

A Stone/Force Printing of the Declaration of Independence

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, Copperplate engraving printed on thin wove paper. Imprint at bottom left, “W. J. STONE SC WASHn” [William J. Stone, Washington, D.C. ca. 1833]. Printed for Peter Force’s American Archives, Series V, Vol I. Approx. 24¾ x 29½ in., framed to 32½ x 37½ in.

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The Stone/Force printings are the best representation of the Declaration as it was when members of the Continental Congress put their lives on the line to sign it in August of 1776. 

Item #27694, SOLD — please inquire about other items

Connecticut Governor’s Proclamation Calling for a Day of Thanksgiving to Commemorate the Defeat of the French in Canada, and the Taking of Quebec

THOMAS FITCH, By the Honourable Thomas Fitch Esq; Governor ... of Connecticut ... A Proclamation for a Public Thanksgiving ... Thursday the sixth day of March next .... New Haven: by James Parker & Company, February 21, 1760. 12 x 14.5 inches.

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Broadside with a woodcut vignette of royal British arms at the top and woodcut initial. Some loss to upper right corner, a few nicks to the left and right margins. Penned inscription on the back.

Reference: Evans 8568; ESTC W34681 (locating only 2 copies)

Item #26605, $6,500

After Yorktown Victory, Samuel Huntington Congratulates French Foreign Minister

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON, Draft Autograph Letter, to Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes, Minister of France, November 7, 1781, Norwich, Connecticut. On laid paper watermarked “I Taylor.” 2 pp., 8 x 13¼ in.

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Also see the Alexander Hamilton Collection: The Story of the Revolution & Founding.

The conduct of Count de Grasse so far as it hath come to my knowledge charms me; his drupping the British fleet sufficient to Convince teach them they might not & could to keep at due distance & not enter the Cheasapeake or again attempt to Interrupt the siege, & at the same time not suffering himself to be too far diverted from his first & main object…

Item #24776, $7,500

George Washington’s “Justice and Public Good” Letter, Written Just Before Becoming the First President of the United States

GEORGE WASHINGTON, Autograph Letter Signed, to Frederick Phile, March 15, 1789, Mount Vernon, Virginia. Washington’s retained copy, written on blank leaf of Phile’s letter to him as evidenced by partial address on verso: “[George] Washington / [Moun]t Vernon.” 1 p., 8 x 6¼ in.

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“I will go into Office totally free from pre-engagements of every nature whatsoever, and in recommendations to appointments will make justice & the public good, my sole objects.”

The still unofficial President-elect George Washington writes in March 1789 about his determination to go into the presidency with no pre-existing commitments, ready to purely judge the“justice & the public good” of every appointment. He would extend that sentiment to every aspect of his presidency.

Washington referred to the standard of “justice & the public good” only a few times, and the present letter is the only example we know of that has ever reached the market.

Item #27734, $550,000

Charles Thomson (One of Only Two Men to Sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4) Sends Treaty of Paris Proclamation Officially Ending the Revolutionary War

CHARLES THOMSON, Manuscript Letter Signed, to Georgia Governor John Houstoun, January 16, 1784, Annapolis, Maryland. 1 p., 6¼ x 7¾ in.

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Charles Thomson of Pennsylvania served as Secretary of the Continental and Confederation Congresses throughout their entire fifteen-year existence, from 1774 to 1789. In that position, he signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. With a very small executive department, the role was much more than clerical; especially when Congress was not in session, he essentially acted as the prime minister of the pre-Constitutional United States.

This letter to the governor of Georgia transmitted printed copies of the Proclamation of the Treaty of Paris and Congressional Resolution (both no longer present), written by Thomas Jefferson, recommending that the states restore the confiscated property of all British subjects who had “not borne arms against the...United States” in a “spirit of conciliation.” The recipient, John Houstoun, had taken office as governor of Georgia one week earlier.

Item #27680, $37,500

John Hancock’s Signed Protest Against “Taxes … imposed upon the People, without their Consent”

JOHN HANCOCK, Document Signed as Selectman of Boston, to the Selectmen of Charlestown [right across the bay from Boston]. Cosigned by Boston Selectmen Joseph Jackson, John Ruddock, John Rowe, and Samuel Pemberton. Boston, Mass., September 14, 1768. 1 p. 6-⅜ x 12-⅝ in.

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With its warning call for “the Preservation of our invaluable Rights” punctuated by the instantly recognizable signature of John Hancock, this 1768 letter is an important precursor to American independence. The selectmen of Boston lay out key issues: the “unconstitutional” imposition of taxes, obstruction of petitions for redress, dissolution of representative government, and introduction of a standing army to enforce the oppressive mandates—“one of the greatest Distresses to which a free People can be reduced.” 

The call for a convention was answered immediately. Nine days later, on September 23, representatives from 96 Massachusetts towns met in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. Five days after that, warships arrived in Boston Harbor with the first British reinforcements. The convention hastily composed a list of grievances, passed several resolutions, and adjourned. On September 30, royal transports unloaded two regiments at the Long Wharf, beginning the British military occupation of Boston that lasted until March 17, 1776. 

“No taxation without representation.” is now thought of as the catchphrase for the patriot cause. Though often attributed to James Otis, no proof of his use of the phrase has been found. The February 1768 London Magazine contains the earliest known printing, in a subhead introducing a speech on the declaratory bill. Lord Camden stated that “taxation and representation are inseparably united,” and the editor added “no taxation without representation.” The first known usage relating to America was printed in 1771 for the prior year’s The Political Register and Impartial Review, in “A Dissertation on the original Dispute between Great-Britain and her Colonies,” by Demophoon. 

The substance of the rallying cry is captured here, in the argument of Hancock and his fellow selectmen that the punitive taxes have been imposed on the Colonies “without their Consent,” through “Acts of Parliament in the forming of which the Colonies have not, and cannot have any constitutional Influence. 

The Boston selectmen’s circular letter, with its successful call for a colony-wide convention, represents an important precedent for the creation of ad hoc governing institutions in revolutionary America, from the Committees of Correspondence and Committees of Safety to the Continental Congresses. In bypassing royal prerogative to constitute a political body capable of representing the popular will, Massachusetts patriots sowed the seeds for republican government and independence in America. 

Very rare. Only one other signed copy is presently known in private hands, and just four are recorded in institutional collections. It seems likely that many other copies went out with clerical signatures.

Item #27558, SOLD — please inquire about other items

John Binns’ Scarce & Most Decorative Early Declaration of Independence Facsimile (1819)

[DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE], Engraved Broadside. “In Congress July 4th. 1776. The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.” [Philadelphia:] John Binns, 1819. Text designed and engraved by Charles H. Parker, facsimiles of signatures engraved by John Vallance of the firm of Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co. Ornamental border, drawn by George Bridport, incorporated the seals of the thirteen original states after Thomas Sully, engraved by George Murray. Medallion portraits of Washington (after Gilbert Stuart, 1795), Jefferson (after Bass Otis, 1816), and Hancock (after John Singleton Copley, 1765), were engraved by James Barton Longacre. Printed by James Porter. 27½ x 36 in.

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Historical Background
In 1816, the publisher John Binns was the first to announce plans to publish a decorative broadside of the Declaration of Independence, to be sold by subscription for $10 each. The project was completed in 1819, by which time four others had already imitated the idea and issued less ornate and less expensive copies, including a pirated copy of the Binns. Binns later said that his publication cost him $9,000, an astonishing amount at that time.

In a prospectus accompanying an incomplete state of the print submitted for copyright on November 4, 1818, Binns describes the work: “The Design in imitation of Bas Relief, will encircle the Declaration as a cordon of honor, surmounted by the Arms of the United States. Immediately underneath the arms, will be a large medallion portrait of General George Washington, supported by cornucopias, and embellished with spears, flags, and other Military trophies and emblems. On the one side of this medallion portrait, will be a similar portrait of John Hancock,...and on the other, a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. The arms of ‘The Thirteen United States’ in medallion, united by wreaths of olive leaves, will form the remainder of the cordon, which will be further enriched by some of the characteristic productions of the United States; such as the Tobacco and Indigo plants, the Cotton Shrub, Rice &c. The facsimiles will be engraved by Mr. Vallance, who will execute the important part of the publication at the City of Washington, where, by permission of the Secretary of State, he will have the original signatures constantly under his eye.”

The Binns broadside bears an engraved facsimile attestation to the accuracy of the document by John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, from April 19, 1819: “I certify, that this is a Correct copy of the original Declaration of Independence, deposited at this Department; and that I have compared all the signatures with those of the original, and have found them Exact Imitations.

Despite the competition, Binns’ print remains the best decorative reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. Binns wanted to have his copy adopted as official, and one was displayed in the House of Representatives. For political reasons—and perhaps because Binns failed to include an engraving of John Adams—John Quincy Adams soon after commissioned William J. Stone to make an exact facsimile in 1823.

The Library Company of Philadelphia owns the original copper printing plate for this print.

Item #27257, SOLD — please inquire about other items

Virginia Planter Friend of Washington Explains American Reaction to the Intolerable Acts, Warns War, Urges Effort to Repeal the Law

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR PRELUDE.] BRYAN FAIRFAX, Autograph Letter Signed but with signature effaced, to Unidentified Recipient, October 24, 1774, [Virginia]. 4 pp., 7¼ x 9 in.

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“It is not yet too late for the King to recover the Affections of his Subjects in America… If more Troops should be sent over, and any Blows shd happen to the Northward, there will be as great a Passion in America for the Relief of Boston as ever there was for Croisades to Jerusalem… They act here from a Persuasion that a determined System is now formed to tax or enslave them…. The People mean well, they should not be forced to give up what they verily believe to be their Rights…”

Bryan Fairfax wrote this fascinating letter from Virginia to an influential Englishman. (His cousin, Lord Thomas Fairfax, is at least a plausible guess as to the recipient). Fairfax describes the American reaction to the Intolerable Acts and the Boston Port Act, urging the recipient to use his power in England to have them repealed. Fairfax originally signed the letter. Perhaps considering the wisdom of having a name attached to such a passionate letter, he or a reader scratched it out. Whether immediately after writing, or within the next couple of years once the Revolutionary War began in earnest, we cannot tell.

Despite major differences as to their approaches, Fairfax notes, “as to the Virginians I can answer for their good Intentions.” Fairfax and Washington’s correspondence in July and August reveal their major difference: Fairfax believed the British could still be persuaded by arguments, while Washington believed that repeated failures to even acknowledge successive colonial petitions and supplications showed that the British had determined to subjugate the colonies.

Item #27209, SOLD — please inquire about other items

Eyewitness Account of the Battle of Bunker Hill from a Loyalist Perspective

[BUNKER HILL], Loyalist Account of the Battle of Bunker Hill Broadside. June 26, 1775, Boston. Boston: John Howe, 1775. 1 p., 8¾ x 14 in.

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This Action has shown the Bravery of the King’s Troops, who under every Disadvantage, gained a compleat Victory.... But they fought for their King, their Laws and Constitution.

Nine days after the British drove the Americans from the heights above Boston, Loyalist printer John Howe issued this broadside/handbill. Although the account of the battle is quite accurate, it inflates the number of Patriot troops and distorts the number of casualties. Although it claims the British troops were outnumbered three to one, other estimates suggest that approximately 2,400 Patriots faced 3,000 British troops. The Americans suffered approximately 450 casualties, including 140 dead, while the British lost 1,054 killed and wounded, a casualty rate of about 45 percent. The casualty rate among British officers was particularly high. This broadside’s emphasis on the courage of the British forces makes it an unusual account of the battle and an interesting piece of British propaganda.

Item #26495, $12,500

A Stone/Force Printing of the Declaration of Independence

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, Copperplate engraving printed on thin wove paper. Imprint at bottom left, “W. J. STONE SC WASHn” [William J. Stone, Washington, D.C. ca. 1833]. Printed for Peter Force’s American Archives, Series V, Vol I. Approx. 25 x 30 in.

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The Stone/Force printings are the best representation of the Declaration as it was when members of the Continental Congress put their lives on the line to sign it in August of 1776. 

Item #26740.99, SOLD — please inquire about other items

New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves – 1794 Land Deed from John Jay’s Brother for First African Free School in New York City

FREDERICK JAY, Manuscript Document Signed, Deed to African Free School Trustees Matthew Clarkson, William Dunlap, Elihu Smith, and William Johnson, July 22, 1794. Endorsed by Master in Chancery John Ray and witnessed by John Keese and John Tyson. 1 p. on vellum, 27 x 24¼ in.

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“Whereas many respectable and benevolent Persons in the City of New York have associated under the denomination of ‘the Society for promoting the Manumission of Slaves and protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated,’ and have Instituted a School in said City, called the African free School for the humane and charitable purpose of Educating negro Children to the end that they may become good and useful Citizens of the State...”

The New-York Manumission Society was founded in January 1785. The 19 initial founders included Future federal judge Robert Troup, prominent Anti-Federalist Melancton Smith, and John Jay, who was elected as the Society’s first president. Alexander Hamilton joined at the second meeting ten days later.

On November 2, 1787, the Society voted to establish the African Free School.  In 1794, by this deed, Frederick Jay – John Jay’s brother – donated lower Manhattan lot 635 on Hester Street to support the school, one of the first nondenominational charity schools in the United States.

Item #27319, $125,000

Proclamation Announcing Ratification of Treaty of Paris and Details of a “Triumphal Arch” in Philadelphia

[AMERICAN REVOLUTION], Broadside, December 2, 1783. Philadelphia, printed by Thomas Bradford. 7.875 x 10.25 in.

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Item #26496, SOLD — please inquire about other items

1778 Muster List, Including Rejected African American Recruit

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR; AFRICAN AMERICAN SOLDIERS], Autograph Document Signed, Muster Rolls for Norton and Attleboro, Bristol County, Massachusetts. 2 pp., 8¼ x 13 in.

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This rare descriptive list of men enlisted for Continental service from Massachusetts includes an African American who served in the militia. The first page lists eight men belonging to three companies in Colonel John Daggett’s regiment of Massachusetts militia. The list gives each man’s age; height; color of complexion, hair, and eyes; and town. All are from Norton in Bristol County, approximately thirty miles south of Boston. Among the militiamen who were forwarded for Continental service was 26-year-old London Morey, “a Negro,” but according to his military records, he was “rejected” at Fishkill, New York.

The verso contains a tabular list of twenty men recruited from Colonel John Daggett’s militia regiment for nine months’ service in the Continental Army. They were from Attleboro, Easton, and Mansfield. The table lists each man’s company, name, age, height, complexion, eye color, town, and county or country. The last four listed are from France. Several served in the 12th Massachusetts Regiment under the command of Col. Gamaliel Bradford.

Item #26532, $4,500

June 1776 Charles Thomson Signed Continental Congress Resolution Defining Treason

CHARLES THOMSON, Manuscript Document Signed, Copy of Resolution Extracted from Minutes Journal as Secretary of Confederation Congress, June 24, 1776, Philadelphia. 2 pp., 6⅜ x 8 in.

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This resolution of the Second Continental Congress, approved days before it adopted the Declaration of Independence, defines a person as guilty of treason if they “levy war” against any of the united American colonies or give “aid and comfort” to any of their enemies. This resolution was the first public act to declare King George III the enemy and was a de facto declaration of independence.

Item #27107, SOLD — please inquire about other items

A Remarkable Find After 177 Years: A Long-Lost Official William J. Stone Copy of the Declaration of Independence, Presented in 1824 to Signer Charles Carroll of Carrollton (SOLD)

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, “In Congress, July 4, 1776. The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America. … ENGRAVED by W.I. STONE, for the Dept. of State by order/of J.Q. ADAMS Sect. of State, July 4th 1823.” [Washington, D.C.] Copperplate engraving on vellum.

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The Carroll copy shown here sold for a record $4,420,000 at Freeman’s on July 1, 2021.

I was thrilled to be called on to help authenticate and sell this rare printing of the Declaration. When I saw my first one in 1991, 31 Stone Declarations were known. Through discoveries in museums, behind a cabinet in the Supreme Court, by a descendent of James Madison, in a thrift store in Tennessee, and now by a family in Scotland who were having books appraised by a Scottish auction house, the number stands at 48. In various ways, I’ve had the honor to have been involved with 15—now 16—Stone Declaration sales. 

Item #26440, SOLD — please inquire about other items
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