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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

The Rarest Edition

Heritage Auctions to sell a seldom-seen edition of The Federalist By Peggy Carouthers Peggy Carouthers lives in California and is the custom content manager at Journalistic Inc.

Published in New York newspapers between October 1787 and April 1788, The Federalist Papers, penned by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison under a pseudonym to persuade the New York delegation to vote in favor of the Constitution, were some of the most politically important documents in the early history of the nation.

This rare 1799 edition of The Federalist was actually first printed as a 1787 edition by J. & A. McLean, but sold by John Tiebout (with a new title page) more than a decade later (est. $50,000). Courtesy of Heritage.

“It was probably the most significant set of statements put out in favor of the ratification of the Constitution, which was very much up in the air at the time,” said Michael Zinman, a collector specializing in the history of printing in America from the Federalist period through the year 1800.

Due to their importance, these essays and articles were collected and reprinted by J. & A. McLean in a volume titled, The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. Despite the historical and political significance of the text, copies of these books are not particularly rare.

“All of the early Federalist Papers were first printed in newspapers before they were assembled in a book,” Zinman said. “From the point of view of a political importance or historic importance, the book was not as important as the articles in the newspapers.”

But on September 13, Heritage Auctions will sell something far rarer—the 1799 edition.

“Goodspeed in Boston listed it in their Catalogue in the 1920s and noted that it was the only one that they had ever seen,” Zinman said. “No other copy has surfaced in the trade, except for this one and a loose volume two that I happen to have in my collection.”

Zinman, who conducted a survey of the institutional holdings of the 1799 edition, said that only around fifteen institutions have a 1799 edition, including those that have the complete set or only volume one or volume two.

“This copy that came up is extraordinarily rare, but rare does not necessarily equal a lot of money in this case,” he said. “This copy is likely to sell for about $50,000, whereas a 1787 edition might sell for $200,000-220,000.”

Despite these wildly different prices, the truly interesting thing about this edition is that aside from the title page, the 1799 edition is actually a 1787 edition. In the years after the 1787 volumes were printed, J. & A. McLean closed up shop, and the remaining stock was sold to fellow printer, John Tiebout, who reissued the remaining Federalist stock with his own title page.

“Collectors want a 1787 that says ‘1787,’” Zinman said. “But if you had a loose title page from the 1787 and switched it with the title page of a 1799, you would have a legitimate 1787. And relative to the 1787 edition, the 1799 is exceedingly rare and is significant in the sense that it’s a neat edition.”

This edition will be sold in Heritage Auctions’ rare books sale in Dallas, which will include a floor auction followed by an Internet-only session.

Learn more at Heritage Auctions.
Peggy Carouthers lives in California and is the custom content manager at Journalistic Inc.