Published: March 8, 2017
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – Alexander Hamilton is making an encore appearance at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, previewing on Thursday, March 9, at the Park Avenue Armory. Two of the show’s more than 200 exhibitors, Seth Kaller, a dealer from White Plains, N.Y., and John Reznikoff of University Archives in Westport, Conn., are offering a trove of original letters, documents and imprints that taken together illustrate the life and times of Hamilton, an architect of the US governmental and financial systems and a private citizen doomed by his immoderate passion.
The specialists had been assembling the collection for about six months when news broke of Sotheby’s January 18 auction of Alexander Hamilton letters and manuscripts from a family archive.
Kaller, who spoke to Antiques and The Arts Weekly by phone last week, was a major buyer at the sale. The dealers have included exchanges between Hamilton and his contemporaries George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Aaron Burr, Eliza Hamilton, Maria Reynolds and others to give the story greater nuance and depth.
“These letters really make the people come alive, which is what the Broadway play captures,” Kaller explained.
Collection highlights include a love letter from Hamilton to the woman who would soon become his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler. “We don’t know when this came out of the family, but it was certainly many decades ago,” said Kaller. Hamilton lustily refers to Schuyler as “a little sorceress.”
In a letter to George Washington dated October 24, 1777, Hamilton acknowledges receipt of an intelligence report assessing the movement of Hessian troops.
Also included is a first-edition copy of The Federalist, the collection of articles and papers written anonymously by Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in support of the ratification of the US Constitution.
Recent acquisitions include a group of letters relating to Hamilton’s reputation as solider and gentleman with a proclivity for dueling, plus notes prepared for President George Washington’s third annual message to Congress.
“We also have the only known writing in Hamilton’s hand having to do with the legal case with James Reynolds, the person responsible for Hamilton’s downfall. We already had a copy of the Reynolds pamphlet, so putting the two together is amazing,” Kaller said.
The dealer’s favorite lot from the Sotheby’s sale is a letter in which Hamilton expresses his vehement dislike of Thomas Jefferson. “As a Federalist, Hamilton believed in a strong central government. Jefferson favored decentralization. They represented two opposing views that blended together to create our country. And it’s all in this letter,” said Kaller.
Kaller and Reznikoff will have about 50 items out for inspection at the book fair, plus more letters and documents in cases. The collection includes hundreds of newspapers, most of which will not be at the show.
“Newspapers give you a sense of what’s going on at the time. We bought a complete 1801 run of the New York Post, which carried the news of Philip Hamilton’s death in a duel at age 19,” says Kaller, who also acquired the son’s only known letter to his father.
He added,”My history has been working with private collectors who end up donating, depositing or lending their collections to institutions. We hope the Alexander Hamilton Collection finds a good home.”
A 156-page catalog to the Alexander Hamilton Collection, priced at $2.3 million, is viewable online at www.ahamilton.com.
Produced by Sanford L. Smith + Associates in association with the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, the show runs through Sunday, March 12. For more information, 212-777-5218 or www.nyantiquarianbookfair.com.
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