University Archives turns up rare signatures for May 15 auction

Superb framed display devoted to frontiersman Davy Crockett – to include his autograph, a portrait, a depiction of the Battle of the Alamo and a commemorative coin. Estimate: $8,000-$9,000. University Archives image

WESTPORT, Conn. – Collectors of early American history, science and technology and Civil War memorabilia will want to mark their calendars for Wednesday, May 15, when those popular categories will be featured in University Archives’ online-only auction, starting at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. Close to 300 quality lots will come up for bid. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

As with all University Archives auctions, this one is loaded with rare, highly collectible autographed documents, manuscripts, books, photos and relics.

“Besides the best offering of Declaration signers in years with 66 lots, we are strong in Lincoln, Washington, Kennedy, Civil War, Revolutionary War and science and technology, highlighted by a couple of great Einstein letters,” said John Reznikoff, University Archives president and owner.

A letter written and signed by the early American political activist Thomas Paine, dated July 2, 1805, in which he asks a newspaper editor if it was true that Great Britain had proposed that the Duke of Clarence be made the King of America, is estimated at $30,000-$35,000. Also, a superb framed display devoted to frontiersman Davy Crockett – to include his autograph, a portrait, a depiction of the Battle of the Alamo and a commemorative coin, should make $8,000-$9,000.

Reznikoff added, “One of my favorite lots in the sale is a guestbook from the Bunker Hill Memorial, which has over 12,000 signatures, including Mary Todd Lincoln. This item seems to tie together the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, as the signatures were written during the latter.”

Bunker Hill guestbook, signed during the Civil War by about 12,000 visitors to the famous Revolutionary War battle site and commemorative monument. Estimate: $9,000-$10,000. University Archives image

A two-page, handwritten letter signed by Abraham Lincoln while president, dated May 23, 1863, addressed to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton regarding the Illinois Central Railroad, with a note signed by Stanton, has an estimate of $30,000-$50,000. Also, a letter from John Adams, signed to George Alexander Otis in Amsterdam, dated April 22, 1820, in which he thanks Otis for a translation of Archbishop de Pradt’s Europe, should finish at $12,000-$15,000.

Two-page, handwritten letter signed by Abraham Lincoln while president, dated May 23, 1863, addressed to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Estimate: $30,000-$50,000. University Archives image

George Washington will make multiple appearances in the auction, including an oval portrait of the first president as part of a museum-quality commemorative display presented to the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind after her 1850 American tour (est. $15,000-$20,000); and a document signed by Washington on June 9, 1783, discharging from military service William Wheeler, Matross (2nd New York Artillery Regiment) at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War (est. $10,000-$12,000).

Oval portrait of George Washington as part of a museum-quality commemorative display presented to Swedish soprano Jenny Lind after her 1850 American tour. Estimate: $15,000-$20,000. University Archives image

A typed, one-page copy of a letter written in English in 1950 by Albert Einstein in response to an earlier, three-page letter from Mark Van Doren, with Einstein’s handwritten computations and formulas on verso, should realize $15,000-$17,000. Two pages of handwritten notes by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988), in which he mentions using the Runge-Kutta method to solve different mathematical equations, is estimated at $9,000-$10,000.

Reznikoff’s remarks concerning the offering of signers of the Declaration of Independence – 55 names in all, representing all but one of the men who signed the historic document – allude to what will probably be the headliner portion of the catalog. Rarely does a nearly complete set of Declaration signers come up for bid, especially as individual lots. A few of the names include:

  • Arthur Middleton – (South Carolina); his signature is rare (est. $20,000-$22,000).
  • John Hancock – an attractive, early example of his classic signature (est. $1,800-$2,000).
  • Francis Lewis – (New York); a signed letter regarding wine delivery (est. $2,600-$2,800).

An archive of material pertaining to Lloyd Best – the early aviation mechanic and metalsmith who knew Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh and Douglas “Wrong-Way” Corrigan – to include items signed by all three and fabric from the Spirit of St. Louis and the Wright Flyer – should soar to $12,000-$14,000. Also, a typed letter by J. Robert Oppenheimer, signed to Leslie R. Groves Jr., from October 1962, about the origins of the atomic bomb and the code name “Trinity,” should make $8,000-$9,000.

Typed letter by J. Robert Oppenheimer, signed to Leslie R. Groves, Jr., from Oct. 1962, about the origins of the atomic bomb and the code name ‘Trinity.’ Estimate: $8,000-$9,000. University Archives image

A rare Schutz-Pass document signed by Swedish diplomat and humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg, created in response to efforts to save Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, written in Hungarian and dated Sept. 28, 1944, has an estimate of $7,000-$8,000. A one-page letter inscribed in French in a clerical hand in 1811 and signed by Napoleon Bonaparte, addressed to his Minister of Public Treasury Nicolas Francois and regarding bookkeeping, should breeze to $2,000-$2,400.

For details contact University Archives at 203-454-0111 or john@universityarchives.com.