Published: April 27, 2021
By Madelia Hickman Ring
WILTON, CONN. – A three-volume set containing about 42,000 signatures of Civil War-era visitors to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, Mass., is returning home to Massachusetts. The volumes, one dated May 1860-June 1862, another June 10, 1862-July 22, 1863, the third from June 4, 1864-February 28, 1865, were auctioned at University Archives’ Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books auction on Wednesday, April 14, where they sold for $21,250, including buyer’s premium.
Before the sale, John Reznikoff, the owner of University Archives, reached out to White Plains, N.Y., American manuscripts dealer, Seth Kaller, to alert him of the sale; Kaller, in turn, reached out to a client who ended up purchasing the volumes. An April 15 story in the Boston Globe quoted Kaller as saying “My client said yes immediately. One way or another, they will make their way back to Bunker Hill.”
According to the Globe, Charlestown historians had been unaware that the books were no longer in the possession of the Bunker Hill Monument Association. By the time the museum learned that the volumes were coming up for auction, there was not enough time to rally the funds necessary to bid on the books, which had been estimated by University Archives at $7,5/8,000.
The association does not know when the volumes left their possession. In the Globe’s reporting, some association members “had speculated that the guestbooks, signed by an extraordinary range of Nineteenth Century Americans, were stolen at some point over the last century and a half. Many of the association’s artifacts and records had been dispersed among its members after the state took control of the monument in 1919, followed by the National Park Service in 1976.
Two of the three volumes had previously sold at the Boston auction house Skinner’s, which offered them in an online Books & Manuscripts sale on November 17, 2019; at the time, they brought $1,046 against an estimate of $300/500.
Several Civil War-era luminaries, as well as ordinary citizens and international visitors to the Boston area signed the guest books, including First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882), who visited the Bunker Hill Monument on May 18, 1861. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) (1841-1910), visited Boston from October 17-20 during his tour of North America in 1860. Frederick F. Low (1828-1894), represented California in the US House of Representatives from June 1862 to March 1863, served as governor of California from December 1863 to December 1867, and was the United States’ Minister to China from 1869-1873. Major General George B. McClellan (1826-1885) served as Commanding General of the United States Army from November 1861 to March 1862.
The Globe also quoted Arthur Hurley, president of the Monument Association, as being elated that the guestbooks are coming home. “We’ll have to find a case for them and put them on display at the Bunker Hill Museum,” he said.
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