WILTON, Conn. – If the name Button Gwinnett doesn’t ring a bell, you’re in good company. Many American history buffs might not recognize the name, either. Unremarkable as he was, Gwinnett’s rare signature on a document that was purchased recently for $1.4 million completed an autograph collection of all signatories of the Declaration of Independence. The buyer was dealer John Reznikoff, who is also president of the University Archives auction house.
Gwinnett, a businessman and politician who represented Georgia at the First Continental Congress, was the first of the signatories to die. He lost a duel in 1777, less than a year after the Declaration was issued, when he challenged a rival for calling him “a scoundrel and a lying rascal.” The last Button Gwinnett document to sell at auction realized nearly $700,000 more than a decade ago at Sotheby’s.
Reznikoff purchased the set and immediately placed it with a client. He said that a Gwinnett signature is often the missing piece of the complete 56-signature set, which is considered a plum by collectors.
“Gwinnett was among the least-known of the signers, so relatively few examples, thought to be as few as ten in private hands, were preserved and were not considered to have much value,” Reznikoff said. “Today, a Button is often the jewel that completes the crown, but purchasing one would cost well over one million dollars.”
Reznikoff has sold three complete sets of the signatures, and has formed some 20 sets missing only a Button Gwinnett. “Holding these documents in your hand – especially during these incredibly trying times – underscores how it was human beings, special ones and ordinary ones, who formed this nation and how special and ordinary ones could undermine it,” he said.
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