YONKERS, N.Y. – A major unpublished manuscript archive of Southern history – including a 1775 map of Natchez, Miss., which at one time boasted more millionaires than New York City; a Mississippi plantation Bible maintained from 1839-1979; and a set of encyclopedias from the personal library of a slave owner and cotton planter – sold for $76,725 in a March auction held by Cohasco, Inc.
The archive was the top seller of the nearly 650 lots offered in the mail, phone, fax, e-mail and Internet sale, at which thousands of historical documents and related collectibles crossed the block. It was the 56th sale held in Cohasco’s 62-year history. Included were items ranging from Americana to World Wars I and II.
“This was one of our best sales in years,” said Bob Snyder of Cohasco, Inc. “Prices were strong in a number of categories. Items like stock certificates fetched very high prices, even more than at specialty houses.” Mr. Snyder added only seven lots carried reserves; the remainder were sold to the highest bidder.
The manuscript archive of Southern history was amassed by a scholar over a period of decades. It is a significant collection, comprising hundreds of original items, to include manuscript maps, personal letters, plantation inventories, books, slave documents, photographs, business correspondence and family-related documents from early settlers of the lower Mississippi Valley.
Following are additional highlights from the sale, which concluded March 18. All prices quoted include a 15 percent buyer’s premium, except for the top lot, the premium for which was 12.5 percent.
Colonial America was a particularly strong category. A rare copy of the first British edition of the new American Constitution, printed in London in 1787 and with Washington’s letter submitting it to Congress, achieved $7,187; a copy of Gordon’s American War by William Gordon (London, 1788, four volumes), chronicling the founding of America, hammered for $6,957.
Extracts from the votes and proceedings of the American Continental Congress, held in Philadelphia on Sept. 5, 1774 (London, reprinted for J. Almon, 84 pages) – the very bedrock of the birth of the United States – rose to $6,325; and a manuscript listing the clothing allotments for a 46-man Colonial regiment, printed in 1780 and listing every soldier by name (8 inches by 12 1/2 inches), reached $825.
Civil War-era items also did well. A theatrical broadside advertising the play The Lady Lyons at the Boston Museum on Jan. 20, 1863, and featuring the actor-turned-assassin John Wilkes Booth (his name is printed three times, in bold type) achieved $1,518; and a nice 1864 silver campaign token with a flattering likeness of Abraham Lincoln on the obverse (1 1/16 inches in diameter) went for $759.
Examples of black history piqued the interest of bidders. A slave inventory for A.G. Sledge of Alabama, penned in 1862 and listing 38 slaves (5-50 years old), plus 840 acres of land, cattle and carriages, with values shown, commanded $2,213; a manuscript note for the “hire of Negro man Morris for the year 1843,” requesting that he be “treated humanly and returned,” went for $1,518.
An Underground Railroad-related legal document, levying a $200 fine on three defendants “for harboring” a runaway slave named Bob (the defendants were anti-slavers trying to protect Negro slaves escaping to the North) gaveled for $1,265; an 1819 Georgia document fining two men $150 for attempting to sell “a free yellow boy named Edward Welbourn…claiming him as a slave,” hit $690.
Presidents and first ladies posted impressive prices realized. A letter written by Franklin D. Roosevelt to “Monty” Veeder of Virginia in 1932, while FDR was governor of New York and penned on executive mansion stationery, sold for $759. Twice that ($1,518) was realized for a letter written by former first lady Mrs. Franklin Pierce to her sister in 1853, not long after the inauguration.
Two lots from the books and authors categories topped the $1,000 mark. One was a rare 1612 printing of Institutio Christianae Religionis by John Calvin (Iohanne Calvin, Geneva), the most important doctrinal work of the Reformation; it soared to $1,725. And a 2 1/2-page handwritten letter by the renowned American writer and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (dated Dec. 9, 1857) fetched $1,207.
A signed letter by Clarence Darrow, one of the finest legal minds of the 20th century, in which he ruminates on capital punishment, written on his personal letterhead and dated June 20 (no date, but back-stamped 1928) went for $3,162; and the Salem Gazette (April 2, 1814), with half a front page declaring “Down With the Gerrymander!” (reviling Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry), realized $980.
Examples of Judaica were also present at the sale. A 5-inch by 6-inch photo of Albert Einstein, taken when the intellectual giant was about 40, pipe in hand, and bearing a three-word handwritten greeting, brought $980; and a letter signed and written by Dr. Nachum Rafalkes, a signer of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and former Speaker of the Knesset (dated Sept. 15, 1942), changed hands for $764.
Intriguing lots included a fractional-share stock certificate (1 2/3 shares) of the ephemeral Milwaukee-built Speedwell Automobile Co., dated June 20, 1903 ($443.75); a cartes de visites of Gen. John A. Logan, considered the Union’s premier combat general during the Civil War, signed in the lower margin, with rank ($322); and an 1850s stone lithograph of a Chippewa Indian chief ($172.50).
Rounding out the top lots, a rare copy of the book The Postal Service of The Confederate States of America by August Dietz (Richmond, 1929), signed by Dietz on the blank flyleaf, 439 pages and profusely illustrated, coasted to $1,388; and a letter written by Alabama plantation owner John A. Ray (dated Apr. 23. 1855), to a family member in Georgia, complaining of a drought, fetched $928.