Tuesday, November 17, 2015

George and Martha Hold Forth

Another Skinner's auction with a backstory:  two handwritten notes from George and Martha Washington -- but with an unusual twist!

They were found among papers scattered on the library floor of Hope Park Plantation by a Union soldier in 1862, not long after the Confederates fled.
    Martin Stone noticed Martha's signature (see below) -- then, on another scrap of paper he picked up, George's (above). He mailed the notes to his home, which was fortunate; he then spent some time as a POW in a Confederate prison. He survived to return home.

The scraps of paper were eventually put in the back of a drawer and forgotten. Recently they went up for sale at Skinner's Auctions, by Stone's descendants.

Turns out that the plantation had, at one time, been owned by Dr. David Stuart, whose children and grandchildren were step-children and grandchildren of... you guessed it... George Washington. The two men had a close relationship, and the Washingtons were frequent visitors to Hope Park. When Stuart died, his home was purchased by the Barnes family, who owned (then temporarily abandoned) the plantation during the Civil War. At which point, Confederate soldiers move in...and trash the place. (Knowing soldiers, they were probably using Stuart's letters and notes as very expensive firestarters.)

More on this interesting story here. Washington's note, which was valued at $4,000-6000 pre-auction, went for $19,680. (Yes, the scrap of paper you see above.) Martha's was less -- only $15,990. (Pre-auction value: also $4000-6000. Somewhere, the appraiser who valued these has a slightly red face.)

    Be sure to wander through the lots; a number of astronaut-related items didn't even sell. But the Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning pieces, including manuscripts and presentation copies of their books, did very well. Sherlock Holmes' inventor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had an autographed postcard sell for nearly $450 -- not too shabby, either. A first edition of Dickens' Christmas Carol sold for around $4600. (A signed copy of same went for $15,500 and change, back in May of this year.)

Shades of the manuscript of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, which was found in Canada, being used to wrap grocery purchases. (It most probably was grabbed by British soldiers during the American Revolution. Fortunately, someone noticed and bought up the pages; it ended up in a bishop's library in England.)

Which goes to show you -- unusual paper ephemera is still out there. If you purchase an old book or manuscript, don't forget to check!

See, George...I TOLD you we should be writing more.

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