DALLAS – On June 25, Heritage will present The Founding Fathers’ Fight for Liberty and the Birth of a New Nation – Part I Manuscripts Signature® Auction, including a complete set of signers of the Declaration of Independence. Only a handful of complete sets have been offered at auction in the past century, with the last crossing the block a decade ago. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
The sign’s message was simple but irresistible: “History for Sale” – three words that would lead Carl Przyborowski on a four-decades-long pursuit. The Chicago-area building contractor saw the enticing sign outside a specialty shop on the Las Vegas Strip, where he and his wife were vacationing in the mid-1980s. Intrigued, he entered and stepped into a whole new world – a place where the past was the present and where, for Przyborowski, a new passion was born.
“This store was full of historical manuscript material beautifully framed, adorning the walls, and I was hooked on it right away,” he said. “Shortly after that, after noticing my enthusiasm, my wife secretly purchased and gifted me my first piece, which was a signed check from Orville Wright, accompanied by a photo of Kitty Hawk.”
What started as one piece – a relic from an aviation pioneer – became thousands of pieces, including everything from letters written by Napoleon Bonaparte to signatures from the Three Stooges. “My collecting was all over the place,” he said.
Eventually a collecting focus emerged for Przyborowski: the American Revolution and the country’s Founding Fathers. He became so passionate about that period in U.S. history that he embarked on a quest to acquire signatures from all the signers of the United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution – what he calls “the trifecta of American documents” – in addition to other related manuscript material.
With only 40 or so complete sets of signers of the Declaration of Independence in existence, most of those housed in institutions or public libraries, Przyborowski became part of a tiny circle of collectors. Now, in partnership with Heritage Auctions, he’s offering other history enthusiasts a chance to take his place in the exclusive club.
Przyborowski’s set of Declaration of Independence signers features manuscript material from all 56 men who, in 1776, took the first step toward forming the United States of America, as well as items from Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson and framer of the Declaration of Independence Robert Livingston, culminating in a total of 58 manuscript items. The set also includes one of the finest examples of the very few Button Gwinnett autographs to be offered in more than 25 years.
Another highlight of the event is a collection of letters composed by George Washington for Continental Army General Alexander McDougall. Written from places such as Morristown and Valley Forge, two of the most noteworthy encampments of the Revolutionary War, the letters were not known to exist until an heir of McDougall found them years ago in a tattered suitcase in his garage – a historic discovery that was chronicled in a February 1968 issue of Life magazine.
When about 50 of the letters found their way into the hands of the late Joseph Rubinfine, a highly respected dealer of historical manuscripts, Przyborowski was given an early look at the extraordinarily rare assemblage. “I purchased 12 of the letters, even though I couldn’t afford them at that time,” he said. “Mr. Rubinfine considered them to be the most important find of American historical manuscript material in the last 100 years. I absolutely loved the material, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
While Przyborowski is selling nearly his entire collection through the June 25 auction and subsequent Heritage auctions, he is keeping a few select pieces for himself, including that Orville Wright-signed check his wife gave him so many years ago. “That stays with me,” he said. “It has too much sentimental value to part with.”
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