Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Letters From Beyond: Thomas Edison, Gandhi, Nicolo Paganini & Robert Frost

More great scans of letters from the famous and legendary. All of these were offered in auction #18 by Charles Hamilton, April 6, 1967 in New York. This catalogue also has the realised prices, so I'll be posting them, if only to make you cry and wish you had a time machine.
First up we have a fine example from poet Robert Frost. Described as an 'Autographed Manuscript Signed "R.F." his poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening penned on blank verso of preliminary page of his Selected Poems, Henry Holt, New York, printing of March 1926. The book is also inscribed and signed by Frost on the blank fly-leaf and annotated by him on the table of contents.'

The original text of the poem reads as such:
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep

Apparently the last four lines were favourites of President John F Kennedy, not too shabby. So how much for a Robert Frost book, which he's signed, annotated, made adjustments to and written the text to one of his best known poems inside of? Read to cry yet? Yours in 1967 for the sum of $500.

Another Edison, this time a short note, but an important one. Someone once wrote to Edison, on a small index card, and asked him to finish this line, "Inventive Ability. Specifications: The claimant must have-" tho which Edison has written, "Ambition, Imagination and 17 hour work day." That might have worked for Edison, but then he did invent more than most, and it's a decent argument to say that without his imagination, ambition and draconian working hours we'd all be in the dark.

The catalogue lists this as being a 'Brief A.Ms.S (which stood for autographed manuscript signed) on 3"x5" white card. Remarkable, penned in black ink and ideal for framing or display.' And why wouldn't you frame this - it's a lovely example of Edison's own personal credo and at half the price of the Robert Frost poem, a great addition to any collection. Yep, this sold for a whopping $250.
Now to Yngwie Malmsteen's favourite violinist: Nicolo Paganini. Described as 'Italian violin composer (which is kind of like saying Eddie Van Halen was a guitarist). Autograph Musical Manuscript Signed 1 full page, 8vo, London, July 1833. Nine double bars from Rondo del Campanello with tempo markings in Italian and a huge signature.' Originally this had a reserve of $120 - amazing - but it went well over that and realised $350.

Listed as a 'Hindu nationalist leader', this A.L.S (autographed letter signed - which I could never work out - if it's autographed then surely it's signed, so why the definition twice?) by Mahatma Gandhi wasn't the most interesting or indeed valuable piece in the auction. For the record the highest priced item was a four page letter to George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, it fetched an incredible $4,500 (I'll scan that one later). In importance this little note is just as valuable as the Edison note, if only for the personal credo that it reveals. Written on December 19, 1931, it says;

Dear Young Friend
In reply to your letter I may say that I expect to reach my goal through truth and non-violence. I know that the American youth are with India in her struggle for independence.

After which it's signed and dated. The lot comprised of the above note, three Indian stamps (would it be too much to presume that Gandhi licked them? Eeewww) and an original watercolour of the Mahatma by Ghose (sadly it doesn't say which Ghose), you could have been the owner of all three items for a mere $250.

All in all it'd have been a great auction to be at. For under $1,500 you could have been the owner of all four piece. I shudder to imagine how much you'd be looking at today. In the next entry I'll show you the true winner in the battle between Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. You might just be surprised, plus one of the most affordable pieces of art from Pablo Picasso you'll ever find.

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