Rare George Washington relics headline Americana & Political auction at Heritage Special section of 100+ lots honoring America’s first president, along with significant Western Americana, at Heritage’s May 21 auction
News-Antique.com - May 12,2011 - DALLAS, TX – A special grouping of more than 100 lots directly related to America’s first president, George Washington – including his personally owned and used Gunter Scale (estimate: $30,000+) and Compass (estimate: $40,000+), utilized by Washington when he was a young surveyor in Virginia, and consigned by his descendants – will open Heritage Auctions’ May 21 Grand Format Americana & Political Memorabilia Auction.
“We’ve seen some terrific Americana auctions here in the past,” said Tom Slater, Director of Americana Auctions at Heritage, “but in many ways this one breaks down as the most exciting.”
The majority of the pieces in the grouping are contemporary with Washington’s life and death, with a series of eight lots consigned by the Washington family, including the surveyor tools mentioned above and an important archive consisting of hundreds of Washington family papers dating from 1662 through 1835 (estimate: $85,000+).
“The family artifacts have marvelous provenance,” said Slater, “having been consigned by a direct descendant of Washington’s nephew Bushrod. As Washington himself had no heirs, it was Bushrod who became custodian of Mt. Vernon after the great man’s death in 1799.”
A perfect companion piece to the surveyors’ tools is one of Washington’s actual signed land surveys, written in his own hand and signed by him at the bottom (estimate: $85,000+). Amazingly, the piece has been framed together with the original letter from William Fairfax commissioning Washington to make the survey.
“The two documents reportedly descended together through an old Virginia family,” said Slater. “We can only speculate as to how they came to possess both the survey and letter generations ago.”
The Washington relic with the highest minimum opening bid – $150,000 – is reserved for an extremely important patent document signed by Washington as President in 1796.
“This patent represents a landmark development in the commercial history of the fledgling republic,” said Slater. “It was for a major refinement to Eli Whitney’s famed cotton gin by one Hodgen Holmes. While Whitney’s machine was patented first, it was Holmes’ more efficient version that made possible the profitable growing of cotton in the South on a broad scale, thereby extending – perhaps for decades – the life of slavery in the South.”
The patent also represents a landmark episode in the early history of American commercial law. Whitney felt that manufacturing a gin using Holmes’ improved technique was an infringement on his own patent, and he brought an aggressive legal action to block its sale. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Whitney’s favor, but it was an empty victory. The ruling did not come until 1808, when Holmes’ machines were in widespread use across the South, and Whitney’s own patent was approaching expiration.
Western Americana makes a strong showing in the May 21 sale. Included are 10 lots relating to George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn, important photographs by Carlton Watkins (estimate: $25,000+) and A.J. Russell (estimate: $5,000+), a superb half plate daguerreotype of California gold miners (estimate: $40,000+), and