Documents relating to historical events leading up to the independence of our nation and concerns of its founding father highlighted recent auctions, the most recent and foremost of which was Christie’s sale of George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Sold just five days before the country celebrates its 236th birthday of independence, the 233-year-old document brought $9,826,500, setting a world auction record for an American book or historical document.
After four minutes of bidding by a number of competitors, the winning bid was placed by a representative of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, a nonprofit educational organization which owns and operates the historical site and museum of Washington’s Virginia home.
The copy had been in the Mount Vernon library until 1876, when it was sold at auction. Later the document was acquired by the Heritage Foundation of Deerfield and then auctioned again in 1964, when it was acquired by the noted Americana collector and philanthropist H. Richard Dietrich Jr. (1938-2007), whose estate consigned the copy to Christie’s auction.
Not only was this the personal copy belonging to the nation’s first president, but it has the added historical importance of providing an insight to Washington’s conscientious approach to the presidency. With brackets and notes written in the margins of the Constitution, he highlighted his powers and responsibilities as the first leader of the young republic.
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In a letter written from Mount Vernon to John Langdon in Portsmouth, N.H., on April 2, 1788, before Washington had assumed the presidency, he expressed his concern over the delays in ratifying the Constitution, particularly the situation in New Hampshire. Different states had varying issues, and at one point Langdon, who was a member of the New Hampshire House and of the state’s Constitutional Convention, opposed the issuing of paper money by the proposed federal government. The letter signed “Go. Washington” sold for $70,800 against a $20,000-$30,000 estimate at Northeast Auctions’ Memorial Day Weekend Auction in Portsmouth.
A letter written from Mount Vernon on Christmas Day 1785, after he had resigned his commission as commander in chief of the Continental Army, revealed a more personal side of Washington. In it he thanked Henry Lee, a cavalry officer and Revolutionary War hero, for a gift of roses and fruit trees and conveyed Mrs. Washington’s appreciation for the kindnesses extended by Mrs. Lee in New York. The letter fetched $35,400 against a $30,000-
A rare hand-drawn map of the June 28, 1778, Battle of Monmouth, N.J., which under Washington’s command sent the British troops in retreat and was the last major engagement in the northern theater of the war, sold for $76,700, the auction’s top price.
Art offerings featuring Washington ranged from Jane Stuart’s oil portrait ($35,400) after the “Athenaeum Portrait” (the image on the US dollar bill) by her father, Gilbert Stuart, to a 20-inch carved limestone portrait bust ($2,655) possibly executed for the 1876 centennial, and sculpted after a composite of images: Jean-Antoine Houdon’s life masks, Pierre Duvivier’s medal for the retaking of Boston, and Joseph Wright’s profiles in uniform.
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The Poland Spring House in South Poland, Maine, one of the grand resort hotels of the Victorian era, was leveled by fire in 1975 on the night before July Fourth.
Under a tent on Friday at 11 a.m., John McInnis of Amesbury will conduct an on-site auction of the contents of Ricker Cottage, one of the resort’s remaining buildings. It was the home of the Ricker family, the resort’s owner until it was sold in 1961 to the late Boston hotelier Saul Feldman.
The contents, consigned to the auction by the Feldman family, include antiques, paintings, wicker furniture, silver, decorative items, hotel memorabilia, and framed photographs of US presidents, who were among the rich and famous who visited the hotel made famous by its spring water said to have therapeutic properties.
Water from that spring and from other Maine springs is now bottled and distributed by a subsidiary of Nestle under the name of Poland Spring.
The name is to be found on a number of items being auctioned, ranging from a silver three-handled trophy bowl ($1,200-$1,800) presented by hotel guests to the three Ricker brothers, Edward, Alvin, and Hiram, in 1901 on the 25th anniversary of the hotel’s opening to a Poland Spring Caddy Camp jersey ($75-$150) to a group of souvenir Wedgwood dishes picturing the hotel ($40-$60).
Two framed original room keys ($50-$100) and four early golf clubs with bag ($100-$200) are among other hotel mementos.
The large selection of Victorian furniture has estimates ranging from $500-$800 for a marble-top center table to $50-$100 for a rocking chair, while estimates for the 20th-century wicker pieces range from $200-$255 for a love seat to $75-$150 for a chair and stand.
Paintings are highlighted by a pair of oils ($10,000-$15,000) painted in 1898 by the Weymouth-born artist Abbott Fuller Graves (1859-1936) of fishermen dividing the catch and their shares from a fishing trip.
A large stained glass window ($2,000-$3,000), a leaded glass chandelier ($500-$800), and an 1884 John Rogers figural grouping ($400-$500) are among the decorative items. The framed letters and photographs sent to the Ricker family by Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Harding, and Coolidge have estimates ranging from $500 to $1,000.
The 415-lot auction includes property from other consignors as well, highlighted by a painted eagle ($15,000-$18,000) by the Kittery, Maine, carver George Haley Bellamy (1836-1914), a 1930 Model A Ford Tudor sedan ($18,000-$22,000), a rare Tiffany silver repousse teapot with an Islamic pattern ($2,000-$3,000), a Queen Anne serpentine-top breakfast table ($1,000-$2,000), and a rare two-handled stoneware crock ($2,000-$3,000).
Virginia Bohlin can be reached at globe