American Signed Documents from Joe Rubinfine
Letter from Charles Carroll on cover of Joe Rubinfine's latest catalogue.
Joe Rubinfine recently published his List 170. Rubinfine specializes in American historical autographs. Much of the material is entirely in hand, generally personal letters. Other items are partially filled-in forms, including stock certificates or photographs. These too contain personal signatures. Some are as familiar as John Hancock, Abe Lincoln and George Washington, others less familiar names who nonetheless played some notable role in American history. Like real estate, they won't be making any more of these autographs. None of these personalities is with us any more, their last signatures written years ago. Fortunately, Joe Rubinfine has gathered up a bunch made long ago, and they are available to collectors in the pages of this catalogue.
Item 29 comes from the man whose autograph is more famous than that of any other – John Hancock. In the days after the American colonies declared their independence, Hancock was serving as President of the Continental Congress. The revolution was off to less than a sterling beginning, and the Congress wished to see more support from the states. On October 2, 1776, Hancock sent around a letter to the states, noting that Congress was “at present deeply engaged in Matters of the utmost Importance to the Welfare of America,” and therefore it was “absolutely necessary that there should be a full representation of the several states as soon as possible.” Hancock goes on to cajole them to send sufficient representatives so that “the Sentiments of America be the better known upon the interesting Subjects that lie before them. I shall therefore only once more request your compliance with this Requisition of Congress...” It is not known to which state's officials this copy was sent. Some of these letters had an opening paragraph requesting physicians be appointed to the military, others, such as this one, did not. The reason is not clear. The letter concludes with Hancock's unmistakable signature. Priced at $22,500.
The most hated post-Revolution practice of the British, in American eyes, was the impressment of American seamen. The British would force seamen from American merchant ships, on the claim that they were British subjects, into the Royal Navy, on the spot. After a couple of decades, it finally was a major factor leading to war. Item 41 is a letter from Secretary of State (soon to be Supreme Court Chief Justice) John Marshall from January 1801. It includes proof that a couple of impressed Americans were American citizens. The British would relent and free a few American seamen on proof of citizenship from the government. The two nations would go to war in 1812, and while the British did not officially agree to stop the practice as part of the peace treaty in 1814, they discontinued the practice. $7,000.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the last of a most illustrious group of Americans. When Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was approved, Carroll became the last surviving signer of the Declaration. Carroll, a delegate from Maryland, was also the only Catholic signer. Item 9 is a letter signed by Carroll as the last living signer, it being dated July 16, 1826. In it, he accepts an invitation to ceremonies in Baltimore honoring the recently passed Jefferson and Adams, “to commemorate the veneration & respect so justly due to the memories of the illustrious Signers of the declaration of our Independence who bore so conspicuous a part in that great event.” Carroll lived until 1832, when he died at age 95. $20,000.
Item 45 is another letter from a last survivor. Rembrandt Peale was one of America's most noted early artists. He painted from the late 18th century to the mid-19th, a prolific artist noted primarily for his portraits. He painted many of America's leading figures, including the most notable of all, George Washington. His father, Charles Willson Peale, was also an artist and had painted Washington in 1787. His father introduced young Rembrandt to the American general at the time, leading to Rembrandt's opportunity to paint Washington too, in 1795 when he was just 17 years old. He would paint many more portraits of Washington over the years, using his own painting and those of others as models after his subject died. This letter was written by Peale in 1857 to an autograph seeker. By then Peale was the last man living who had painted Washington in person, and Peale acknowledges his position “as the Oldest Artist in America & the last surviving Painter of Washington...” Peale was 79 at the time, and lived to be 82. $1,000.
American Signed Documents from Joe Rubinfine
Horseback photo of Reagan leads to letter.
We move far ahead in time for this next item. It is a letter from President Ronald Reagan written in 1988, his last full year in office. He has taken the time to respond to a letter from Dale Hackbart of Des Moines, who has sent him an early photograph of Reagan and asked whether the President can identify the location. Reagan is stumped. He writes back, “I'm afraid I can't pin down the locale of the horseback photo. I do know it was Iowa & possibly a farm not a riding stable. My haircut alone makes it Iowa. Hollywood changed my part. But we're talking 50 years ago & while I occasionally had private invitations to ride – but I can't place this one. It's a nice looking horse.” Reagan's entire letter is written by hand. Item 47. $3,800.
Item 27 is a letter dated August 22, 1797, from Postmaster General Joseph Habersham. It is directed to the “Post Master at Machias District of Maine,” and it directs any letters sent to Georges Washington Lafayette and two others be forwarded “without any delay” to the President of the United States. There's a story behind this odd request. Georges' father, the Marquis de Lafayette, American hero of the Revolution, had returned to France after the war, and was serving in that nation's assembly when revolution broke out in France. The Marquis was one of the liberal members of that body, but as the revolution turned radical and finally fanatic, few were spared its terrors. Young Georges, quite obviously named after his father's idol from the American Revolution, was sent into hiding with his tutor, Felix Frestel (also named in this letter), in 1792. It was a good thing, as his grandmother and great-grandmother were guillotined in 1794. Because of his American connections, it was deemed unwise to execute his father, but the Marquis languished in prison for several years before a new government released him. Meanwhile, young Georges and his tutor escaped to America in 1795, and were placed under the care of his namesake, the President of the United States. This explains the request, as he went to live in Washington's house for part of his time in America. $1,500.
Joe Rubinfine may be reached at 321-455-1666 or Joerubinfine@mindspring.com.