Historic Letter Predicting British Downfall in the American Revolution Reaches $64,100 at Swann Galleries
NEW YORK CITY — It is almost impossible these days to form a complete collection of autographs of all 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. One of the most difficult to come by is North Carolina signer William Hooper, so it was not surprising that passions ran high at Swann Galleries on April 3 when a rare autograph letter signed from Hooper to his friend Robert Smith in North Carolina came on the block.
Writing from Philadelphia on 6 August 1776, only four days after he signed the Declaration, Hooper discusses the impending conflict between the American and British armies, and predicts Britain’s ruin. The letter, which remained in the Smith-Hooper family for more than 225 years and had never before been offered for sale, was acquired by a telephone bidder who is forming a collection of significant early printed and manuscript Americana for a record $64,100, far surpassing the $25/35,000 estimate.
The Hooper letter found its way to Swann by a circuitous route. As a result of marriage between Hooper’s and Smith’s descendants, the letter passed down to William Hooper’s sixth-great grandchild, A.E. Ewell, II, of East Sussex, England, “the last of my line,” who said he believes it is “historically important to the people of the United States. If something should have happened to me, this no doubt would have been lost forever.”
Ewell first contacted a British auction house in 1997 to inquire about the letter’s possible value at auction, but they showed no interest. In July 2001, the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration, the Ewells turned on their television to check the weather report just as the host of a popular program that researches treasures submitted by viewers was inviting people with American memorabilia dated 1776 to contact the program. The Ewells submitted their letter and it was selected. The television crew documented the authentication and appraisal process for broadcast. They brought the letter to North Carolina, where it was authenticated by an expert in manuscript Americana, and then shown to a dealer who wrote out a check for $24,000 on the spot in hopes that he could buy it. On October 19, 2001, Ewell was a guest on the “Fortune Finders” segment of Granada Television’s This Morning. He viewed the tape along with the audience. When the dealer’s check was presented to him, he rejected the offer on the air “as a matter of prudence.”
Subsequently, while vacationing in Mexico, Ewell met a New York dealer of antique American furniture, and in the course of conversation, told him about the letter. At this gentleman’s suggestion, Ewell contacted Swann, where he was met with an enthusiastic response.
“Autograph material by Hooper is very scarce,” said Swann specialist Jeremy Markowitz. “What makes this letter extraordinary is the content and the close proximity to his actually signing the Declaration — both factors of paramount importance to collectors. The letter, which was sent to North Carolina from Philadelphia just four days after Hooper signed the Declaration, is also of interest because it is one of the few that were handled in the American-run North Carolina mail system prior to 1777. We were honored to offer it, and needless to say, delighted with the result.”
Record prices were also achieved for an autograph note signed by painter John Singleton Copley, Boston, 1767, a receipt for two portraits of Reverend Jonathan Mayhew that were subsequently destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872, which realized $5,290; and for the longest autograph musical quotation signed by Felix Mendelssohn to have come to auction in 20 years, a 17-bar passage from A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Leipzig, 1843, which fetched $10,925.
Other notable musical material included an autograph musical manuscript of the song “Die Stille Stadt,” signed by Jean Sibelius, circa 1906, $9,775; and an inscribed and signed Cabinet Card portrait of Giacomo Puccini, Vienna, October 1897, $3,680. A selection of illustrated artists’ letters featured examples from a major archive of Frederic Remington correspondence with his close friend Joel Burdick, including an ALS discussing an upcoming camping trip, with five related illustrations, New Rochelle, 1895, which brought $5,520.
Additional auction highlights included an autograph book containing more than 600 signatures of Congressmen from the 29th to 31st Congresses, including Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, Washington, circa 1845-50, which sold for $13,800; an autograph letter signed from Henry David Thoreau, accepting an invitation to give his lecture on Cape Cod at the South Danvers Lyceum, 1850, $6,900; and a copy of The History of Woman Suffrage, signed by authors Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda J. Gage, and inscribed by Stanton to Queen Victoria, New York, 1882, $8,625.
Finally, an ALS by Sigmund Freud to Dr and Mrs Nunberg, in German, written soon after he left Vienna to escape Nazi aggressions, London, 1938, reached $5,290; and a typed letter signed from Albert Einstein to S. Hirshenhorn, Jr, thanking him for his work helping refugees, Princeton, 1939, $4,600.
All prices include buyer’s premium.