New York—On June 21, the auction of Revolutionary & Presidential Americana from the Collection of William Wheeler III at Swann Galleries saw a 91% sell-through rate for important autographs, letters and documents from some of the biggest players in American history. Wheeler, a manufacturing consultant from a long line of New Englanders, devoted much of his adult life to acquiring illuminating pieces of Americana from the Revolutionary War and nearly every president.
Wheeler harbored a special fascination with the life and deeds of Andrew Jackson, which led to a run of 34 significant letters and documents signed by the president, 88% of which found buyers. Highlights included a retained copy of a letter to be published by editor Thomas Eastin, providing his own account of the altercations that would lead to his killing Charles Dickinson in a duel. One of two known complete drafts, it reached $7,000. An 1833 autograph letter signed as president to his adoptive son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., a request that he go to their plantation (the Hermitage) in response to reports of grieving and ailing slaves, sold for $9,375.
The 1876 presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden was overshadowed in South Carolina by the gubernatorial contest on the same ticket. An archive of 153 items relating to the election, which resulted in riots, lynch-mobs and a contested victory for the governorship, topped the sale at $23,400.
Also available was an autograph letter signed by Patrick Henry to Colonel William Fleming requesting that the militia in Montgomery County, Virginia, be prepared in the case of an attack by Native Americans in 1778. The letter more than doubled its high estimate, selling after breakneck bidding to a collector for $16,250. Additional Revolutionary highlights included a brief autograph letter signed to Ira Allen, the brother of Ethan Allen, from Thomas Paine, concerning a missed connection at the subversive Caffe Boston in Paris in the 1790s ($10,000), and a pay order signed by 15 members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives “to defray [the] costs” of express rider Jonathan Park on his urgent ride to Philadelphia in May 1776 ($13,750).
In addition to fresh perspectives on monumental events, the auction provided an endearing human side to some of history’s most well-known players. A fine example is a heartfelt letter from Charles Pinckney to Tobias Lear, George Washington’s secretary, upon learning of the first president’s death in 1799. He wrote, “I shall not attempt to express my feelings on this occasion: language cannot describe them. In him I have lost a friend & father. Say everything proper for me to Mrs. Washington & Mrs. Lewis. I cannot console them; but I can weep with them." This rare missive was purchased by an institution for $16,250, above a high estimate of $10,000.
Specialist Marco Tomaschett was especially pleased with the institutional attention to the auction, saying, “Museums and archives recognized the historical significance of the personal correspondence featured in this sale, especially the letter from Pinckney acknowledging the death of Washington.”
The next auction of Americana at Swann Galleries, featuring The Harold Holzer Collection of Lincolniana, is scheduled for September 27, 2018. The next auction of Autographs at Swann Galleries will be on November 8, 2018. The house is currently accepting quality consignments for autumn auctions.
Image: Lot 131: Rutherford B. Hayes, archive related to the 1876 election in South Carolina. Sold June 21, 2018 for $23,400. (Pre-sale estimate $5,000 to $7,500)