“Washington is no more!”


213 years ago today, citizens of Providence, Rhode Island, learned that George Washington had died. The newspaper United States Chronicle published a black-bordered mourning edition with President John Adams’s announcement:

“It has pleased Divine Providence to remove from this life, our excellent Fellow Citizen, George Washington, by the purity of his character, and a long series of services to his country, rendered illustrious through the world. It remains for an affectionate and grateful people, in whose hearts he can never die, to pay suitable honor to his memory.”

Resolutions of Congress printed in the same issue discuss how to honor the man who was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow-citizens” That famous phrase was apparently coined by the author of the resolutions, Colonel Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, although it is often mistakenly attributed to John Marshall who was assigned to present them to the House in place of the absent Lee.

The end of Lee’s immortal phrase appears to be misquoted here (“his fellow-citizens” instead of “his countrymen”) but even contemporary sources do not agree on the exact wording; some end the quotation with “his country.” Whatever the case, Lee delivered his famous Eulogy on Washington, which reiterated the lines, in Philadelphia on the same day that this newspaper was published.

The slowness of communication at the end of the 18th century is evidenced by the fact that Washington died on December 14, but news didn’t reach readers of this newspaper for nearly two weeks.

See this rare newspaper, published 213 years ago today . . .

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Posted by on December 26, 2012 in General


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Washington Crossing the Delaware


Late December 1776 found the American Army ragged and demoralized, having been chased out of New York and New Jersey by the British. With the majority of the militia’s period of service about to expire on the 31st, Washington took the bold step of planning an offensive. The army crossed the Delaware on the night of December 25, 1776, at McKonkey’s Ferry, PA, under cover of fierce weather and water swollen by ice flows. At dawn the next morning they took the Hessians by surprise at Trenton. January 2, 1777 saw another American victory at Trenton and one at Princeton the following day, giving a huge morale boost to the American cause.

Leutze’s magnificent painting of Washington crossing the Delaware was sold to Mssrs. Goupil in 1851, almost as soon as he began painting it. In September 1851 the finished oil was brought to New York and exhibited at the Stuyvesant Institute and Goupil began accepting subscriptions for an engraved version—at that point the largest line engraving ever printed (38¼ x 22¼ in.).

Goupil’s prospectus offered four versions of the print: print impressions on plain paper for fifteen dollars; print impressions on India paper (as here) for twenty dollars; and proofs before letters on plain or India paper, for thirty and forty dollars respectively. Coloring was also offered as an option, but not priced. Three years later Goupil published a smaller version.

The image was so ubiquitous that Mark Twain commented sardonically upon its presence over countless mantlepieces in Life on the Mississippi. Despite this, it has become difficult to find nice copies of this print in any size, with India paper copies such as ours quite rare, and those labeled “Subscribers copy” almost non-existent.

Read more about this iconic image.

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Posted by on December 25, 2012 in General


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The Moore Things Change


Cover of an edition published in 1888 by McLoughlin Bros.

Cover of an edition published in 1888 by McLoughlin Bros.

Though long acknowledged as the author of A Visit from St. Nicholas (The Night Before Christmas), author Clement C. Moore’s claim to immortality has been questioned by partisans who believe that Henry Livingston, Jr. should be credited for the classic Christmas verse.

As someone who once owned the only manuscript copy of the poem in private hands—the other three are in museums—I took a personal as well as professional interest in the controversy. My article for the Winter 2004 issue of the New-York Journal of American History “The Moore Things Change” completely discredited the Livingston camp.

Since the controversy still lingers on Wikipedia and elsewhere I’ve published an expanded version of the article that you can find here.

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Posted by on December 24, 2012 in General


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Great Gifts, FDR, and Lincoln


Great Gifts
Just in time for the holidays, we’ve selected a gift-worthy group of historic documents, maps, signed books, prints, and more! With prices ranging from less than $150 to more than $35,000, there’s something for anyone with a passion for history.

Franklin & Eleanor
The new film, Hyde Park on the Hudson, inspired us to update our list of Roosevelt-related signed documents and artifacts. Here, we offer a group of items ranging from a large signed wartime photograph of FDR to an important letter in which the First Lady defends her advocacy of civil rights. (If you’ve seen The Help, you will want to read this letter).

Collecting Lincoln
Since Abraham Lincoln is one of our specialties, we’ve noticed interest from first-time collectors sparked by Steven Spielberg’s magnificent film, Lincoln. For this online catalog, we’ve chosen items from our large collection of Lincoln and Civil War material that include everything from inexpensive issues of Harper’s Weekly and Currier & Ives political cartoons to unique original Lincoln letters, signed documents, and artifacts—even the chair in which he was sitting when he first learned he had received the Republican nomination for the presidency.

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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in General


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Establishing a Jewish State

On November 29, 1947, this broadside announced the passage of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181—the historic decision that authorized establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.

“After 2,000 years, we’ve finally returned to the Land of Israel. Although we still have much to work for, we have attained the right to live Independently in a Jewish State for eternity. The two greatest empires—The United States and the Soviet Union, together with most nations in the world, stood loyal by us and helped to protect our rights as humans and as a country. Throughout history, it has been difficult to work together towards a common goal. But today, we are here to turn a dream into a reality. It would’ve been impossible to reach this day without our tireless dedication to the land. This is not the time to hold onto old grudges; This is the time to look towards a bright, illustrious future. But we must work hard to build our fledgling nation, despite the many obstacles ahead.”

See this historic broadside, published 65 years ago today . . .

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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in General


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Writing and Reporting the Gettysburg Address

Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19, 1863. His words have persisted as a supreme distillation of American values despite his assertion that “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here.”

Many Americans believe Lincoln wrote the speech on the back of an envelope while riding the train to Gettysburg. This charming piece of fiction originated in Mary Shipman Andrews’s 1906 book, The Perfect Tribute. Two of Lincoln’s autograph manuscript drafts of the speech survive. Based on Lincoln’s schedule and the paper trail, historian Gabor Boritt concludes that Lincoln wrote the first part of the first draft in Washington and finished it that evening in Gettysburg. Boritt also concludes that Lincoln quickly wrote the second draft the next morning. The second draft may have been Lincoln’s reading copy, as it is closest to the words captured by reporters at the scene.

Lincoln surrounded himself with the press corps, reflecting the rise of news reporting as big business with the advent of the telegraph. Early Lincoln scholars thought that there were only four reporters on the scene, (Associated Press and New York Herald reporter Joseph Gilbert, Boston Daily Advertiser reporter Charles Hale, and reporters from the Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Enquirer), but we now know that there were at least 23 additional reporters there, including many of Lincoln’s allies in the Republican press.

Known as “Lincoln’s dog,” Lincoln supporter and Philadelphia Press owner John Forney offered a pro-Lincoln rant the evening before the speech. Despite his intoxication, he was sober enough to wait for the slew of correspondents to arrive to take down his words.

The New York Herald received the Associate Press text by telegraph and published it the next day. More Americans learned of the speech through the AP text and its variants than any other source. When Lincoln penned his later copies, he was said to have referenced the AP report.

Detail from The World, New York, November 20, 1863, with the Associated Press version.

The text of the AP version and its slight variants (usually punctuation and capitalization) are easily identifiable by the use of the phrase “to the refinished work” instead of the more appropriate “to the unfinished work.” The AP version also omitted the word “poor” in the line The brave men living and dead who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our [poor] power to add or detract” even though multiple eyewitnesses recorded it and it was present in both of Lincoln’s manuscript drafts. In addition to the “poor” omission, the phrase “We are met to dedicate” is “We have come to dedicate” in Lincoln’s written copies. Moreover, Lincoln must have extemporaneously added “under God,” which he included in versions he penned after the fact.

Unsurprisingly, the AP version of Lincoln’s speech was the most widely distributed first-day printing of the text. However, many other newspapers had reporters in the field. Charles Hale, who worked the Boston Daily Advertiser, was an eyewitness copyist at Gettysburg. His newspaper published a morning edition that differed from the AP version, and despite his careful account, the paper nevertheless introduced two unique errors to the text. The Daily Advertiser omitted the word “little” before “note” and changed “forget” to “forbid” in the line: “The world will [little] note nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forbid [forget] what they did here.”

Headlines from the Philadelphia Press, November 20, 1863.

Neither the Boston Daily Advertiser nor the Boston Evening Transcript used the AP’s text, because both papers correctly quoted Lincoln as saying the nation had “unfinished work” instead of the AP’s “refinished work.” However, it appears that the Evening Transcript used some of the morning paper’s copy, because while correctly printing the much more sensible “forget” in place of “forbid,” the afternoon paper still left out the word “little” in exactly the same place. Other than that, the text from these two competing newspapers is nearly exact, except for a few commas. Ultimately, the speed with which first-day printings were produced, as well as the vagaries of nineteenth-century communications, produced many slightly unique versions of Lincoln’s words.

In addition to the AP omission of the word “poor,” the phrase “We are met to dedicate” is recorded as “We have come to dedicate” in Lincoln’s written copies, and the words “carried on,” found here and in Lincoln’s second draft, were replaced by Lincoln with “advanced” in subsequent copies. The Philadelphia Enquirer version of the text, picked up by Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper contains variations of familiar lines, most notably in the final two sentences regarding the nation’s unfinished work and closing phrase of “Government of the people, for the people, and for all people” rather than the more familiar “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

What has come down as the standard version of the Address was compiled from Lincoln’s drafts, reports of what he spoke at the time, and later revisions made by Lincoln himself, who kept tinkering with the text. In the year after the speech, he wrote out three additional versions for charitable purposes using the newspaper reports and his own drafts. The Edward Everett copy was intended as a fundraiser for the New York Metropolitan Fair and is now at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. George Bancroft requested a copy to lithograph and sell at the Baltimore Sanitary Fair. Lincoln agreed, but his first attempt (today known as the Bancroft copy) lacked both a title and signature, and ran into the margins. It is now in the collection of Cornell University. Because its lack of margins made it impractical to reproduce, Lincoln penned a second copy with both title and signature. This, known as the Bliss copy after Bancroft’s stepson, is at the White House. All three of these later copies more closely approximate the words that Lincoln actually spoke at the cemetery dedication. What is now considered the standard text in history textbooks and on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial is the last copy—the Bliss version—with slightly different comma placement.

Visit our website to see rare copies of first day of publication newspapers and other documents and artifacts relating to Lincoln and Gettysburg.

Engravings of the battlefield and dedication ceremony, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in General


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Content is King—But Washington Wouldn’t Be


George Washington-associated items have attained record prices at recent auctions. The president’s copy of a book containing a few of his annotations to the U.S. Constitution fetched nearly $10 million at Christies on June 22, 2012. Earlier this month, a letter written by Washington to James McHenry achieved $362,500 at Doyle New York against a reasonable $80,000 to $100,000 estimate. What differentiates this letter from typical Washington autograph letters signed, many of which can be found on the market in the $25,000 to $45,000 range? Certainly, the timing of a letter is important, as is its recipient. But the most important feature imparting value to a letter, especially a George Washington letter, is, in a word, content.

The Doyle letter records the moment when Washington told his trusted friend and aide-de-camp McHenry of his plan to retire from the Continental Army. Washington considered his task complete; independence had been achieved, the Peace of Paris was signed, and the British had finally evacuated from New York City. Washington wanted to retire and return to his beloved Mount Vernon as a private citizen. Less than a month later, he would tender his resignation to the Continental Congress, quelling conspiracies to install him as dictator and earning his reputation as an American Cincinnatus. His relaxation as a country gentleman would be short lived; he returned to public service four years later to join the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia and, as they say, the rest is history.

We have several superior-content George Washington letters including his call for “material change” in the organization of the Continental Army to win what he calls “the prize in view”— independence—as well as more reasonably-priced offerings such as letters where Washington discusses investing in the new city that would ultimately bear his name or a planning an attack on New York City.

We also have letter from Washington to McHenry written ten months after the British surrendered. The Commander in Chief hints at his desire to give up the “occupation of a G—-” [General] and admonishes his friend for failing to respond to an earlier letter. Chiding McHenry “do not…tease your Mistress in this manner,” Washington provides a jocular glimpse behind his typically-stoic façade. This letter will be on display, along with a manuscript draft of the Articles of Confederation and the Treaty of Paris Proclamation, at the Annapolis Continental Congress Festival, November 26-28, 2012. For more information, see

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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in General


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Florida’s First Election Fiasco—the Election of 1876

With the still-unsettled 2012 Florida results bringing back memories of the Bush v. Gore battle in 2000, it’s a good time to look back at Florida’s first election fiasco—the election of 1876.

Between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden, the 1876 election was one of the most significant in American history. People celebrated the nation’s centennial while preparing to move on after ten years of Reconstruction and eight years of the scandal-ridden Ulysses Grant administration.

Unknown at the time, the election would be among the most controversial in American history; the entire contest rested on a dispute over Florida’s electoral votes. We have an archive of pamphlets, broadsides, and documents— including official signed copies of key Florida court and executive decisions—from the papers of Edward Louden Parris, an attorney for Tilden, who ended up losing the election by way of the “Compromise of 1877.”

See this fascinating archive and a related Notice of Election broadside . . .

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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in General


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“We both hate Slavery & love Peace . . .”

On October 27, 1861 Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner wrote to Quaker peace advocate and abolitionist Joshua P. Blanchard.

“My dear Sir, I always read you writings with interest & sympathy. We are both arriving at the same results; for we both hate Slavery & love Peace…”

Sumner was a leading abolitionist, intimate of Lincoln, and radical republican. Before the Civil War, he joined the ranks of abolitionism’s martyrs when he was savagely attacked on the floor of the Senate by Congressman Preston Brooks because of remarks that Sumner made about Brooks’ relative, Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina.

Blanchard was a Boston merchant who was active in the American Peace Society and American Anti-Slavery Society and was a frequent contributor to The Liberator and other publications. During the War of 1812 he was a conscientious objector and was tried in New York. He advocated mass conscientious objection during the Civil War and despite his moral objection to slavery wrote that the South had the legal right to secede.

See this letter, written 151 years ago today . . .

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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in General


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John Adams agrees to give Benjamin Franklin guardianship over a Boston minister’s grandson

The personal connections of Revolutionary-era Americans and their Parisian allies shine though this John Adams letter. In the midst of the war, the Reverend Samuel Cooper of Boston wrote to Benjamin Franklin, then ambassador to France, introducing his grandson Samuel Cooper Johonnot. The young man crossed the Atlantic with John Adams and the pair traveled to Paris, where Johonnot’s goal was to “acquire the Purity of the French Language in Speaking and Writing.” Adams then travelled on to Holland to negotiate commercial treaties for the new United States, leaving the boy without a guardian. Even though Johonnot already had a letter of introduction to Franklin from his grandfather, Franklin still insisted the boy write Adams to obtain permission for Franklin to assume the role of guardian.

Read this letter, written 232 years ago today . . .

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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in General


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