Letters From Beyond: Benedict Arnold, Mark Twain & Ambrose Bierce

More goodies scanned from the Charles Hamilton catalogues. These two letters were offered in Auction #21, September 28, 1967 - that'll be 41 years ago. Sadly my copy doesn't have the prices realised, so I'll have to go on estimates. Let me tell you though, going on some of the other auctions, I'm betting these went too damn cheaply.

Benedict Arnold. A name synonymous with the word traitor. This is the guy who tried to betray West Point to the British during the American Revolution. What we have here is one page from a 2 2/3 page A.L.S, dated November 26, 1768. The item description list this as being, 'Very early commercial letter to the officers of a ship, ordering them to "to proceed as soon as Wind & weather permits to the Island of Dominica in the Wt Indies & then Inform your Selves in the Market & sell There or go to any other Island you shall think better..." The letter contains detailed instructions on the purchasing of rum, molasses and sugar, with many precautions, "In Case you go to a French Island, Don't sell without good security... In Case you Cannot Sell your Lumbar for Cash, or produce, you may leave it in good hands, untill next Voyage..." After his huge signature Arnold has penned, "We acknowledge the Foregoing to be a True Coppy of Our Orders, received this day" to which the recipients of the order, Messr.s Wm Playmert and Charles Pond have also signed beneath.

Estimate for this letter? $170. I shudder to think what it went for - probably around the $100 mark, going on similar letters from auctions around the same time.

Ambrose Bierce. A fascinating man, I once heard him describe as being akin to Edgar Allen Poe but without the restraint or human touch. Certainly his work can be confronting and gruesome at times, but then there's nothing wrong with that. What I do know is that I've been reading Bierce since I was about 12 and have enjoyed it, plus his life is more than interesting - hey, how could you not like a guy who went missing under suspicious circumstances while riding as an observer with Pancho Villa i the early part of the 20th century?

The catalogue describes this as being, 'A.L.S, 1 full page, The Army and Navy Club, Washington DC, May 17, 1913 (oddly enough the year he vanished). To Mark Lee Luthor, editor of The Smart Set. "The rate you kindly offer for my work is good enough and I promise that the first work I do for any magazine will be submitted to yours. Sincerely Yours, Ambrose Bierce." There is a notation, in another hand, in pencil, that the rate mentioned if "5cents a word".

Pre-auction estimate? $50. It's enough to make you cry really.

Now a quick one from Catalogue #4, May 21, 1964.

Samuel Clemens. Autograph Quotation Signed, 1 page, London, January 1900, accompanied by an A.L.S., 1 1/4 pages, April 9, 1906 (all up, two separate, signed, handwritten items). In the quotation, a small but handsome piece, Clemens writes, "We ought never to do wrong when any one is looking." He signs it, "Mark Twain" and dates it.

What would you expect to get for two Mark Twain handwritten and signed letters? Well I can tell you what you'd have paid in 1964 at least. The pre-auction estimate was a mere $60 and the realised price, for both, was...$100. That equates to $50 per item. A quick look on the internet has found me another signed letter by Clemens (Mark Twain), the opening bid, via a reputable auction house? A mere $9,999. That's not a bad return on your investment indeed. $100 in 1964 to an estimate of $20,000 in 2008, but part of me wonders - if you placed that $100 into a bank account back in 1964, how much would you be likely to have now? Keeping in mind that you'd not have the bragging rights of a Twain on the wall.


Anonymous said…
I just purchased the Benedict Arnold Letter this past weekend at auction. How can I get a copy of the page in the catalogue you reference?

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