"A MEMENTO OF THE TRULY HAPPY DAYS OF THE REPUBLIC": SPLENDID ARCHIVE OF RARE SHIP'S PAPERS SIGNED BY THE FIRST THROUGH FIFTEENTH PRESIDENTS, WASHINGTON THROUGH BUCHANAN, 1795-1857 (EXCEPTING ONLY WILLIAM HARRISON), WITH EXCELLENT PROVENANCE AND ALL PAPER AND WAX SEALS INTACT
WASHINGTON, George; ADAMS, John; JEFFERSON, Thomas; MADISON, James; MONROE, James; ADAMS, John Quincy, et al. Archive of 14 ship's papers signed by 14 of the first 15 Presidents of the United States; 14 documents signed, partially printed and completed in manuscript. New York: 1795-1857. Together, 14 printed documents engrossed in manuscript. Broadsides (various sizes), printed and signed on rectos, with original paper seals. Each mounted on a leaf in an early 20th-century full limp crimson morocco album (17 by 22 inches), patterned endpapers. $85,000.
Fantastic archive of 14 rare original ship's papers each signed by one of the first 15 Presidents of the United States, from George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison through James Buchanan, compiled over the course of 62 years (with the only exception of the ninth president, William Harrison, who was only president for one month), with Washington's signature particularly bold, rare and desirable. As each is also countersigned by the Secretary of State, the signatures of three presidents who served as Secretary of State under previous administrations—James Madison, John Quincy Adams and James Buchanan—appear twice in this archive; along with the signatures of such notables as Edmund Randolph, Timothy Pickering, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster. These documents are in excellent condition, each with the fragile affixed paper seals of the United States present.
Because ships leaving U.S. ports needed ship identification papers before a voyage, documents such as these were signed by the President and Secretary of State ahead of time and forwarded to the port. The Collector of the Port would then fill in the required information for each ship and the date, and the Collector of Customs at the port would typically countersign.
The "Sea Letters" are as follows:
1. Signed by George Washington, April 2, 1795; also signed by Edmund Randolph as Sec. of State. For the "Lovely Rachel" out of Philadelphia.
2. Signed by John Adams, August 31, 1797; also signed by Timothy Pickering as Sec. of State. For the "Olive Branch" out of New York.
3. Signed by Thomas Jefferson, June 22, 1805; also by James Madison as Sec. of State. For the "Sophrona" out of New York.
4. Signed by James Madison, November 29, 1809; also by Robert Smith as Sec. of State. For the "Andrew" out of New York.
5. Signed by James Monroe, August 8, 1823; also by John Quincy Adams as Sec. of State. For the "Huntress" out of New York.
6. Signed by John Quincy Adams, May 21, 1827; also by Henry Clay as Sec. of State. For the "Perseverance" out of New York.
7. Signed by Andrew Jackson, October 18, 1833; also by Louis McLane as Sec. of State. For the "Alexander" out of New York.
8. Signed by Martin Van Buren, December 8, 1837; also by John Forsyth as Sec. of State. For the "White Oak" out of Staten Island.
(9. Understandably, no ship's paper signed by the ninth president, William H. Harrison, is present in this archive. Harrison died after only 32 days in office, and ship's papers signed by him—indeed, any document signed by him while in office—are extremely rare.)
10. Signed by John Tyler, May 10, 1844; also by John C. Calhoun as Sec. of State. For the "Montauk" out of New York.
11. Signed by James K. Polk, April 15, 1847; also by James Buchanan as Sec. of State. For the "Heber" out of Boston.
12. Signed by Zachary Taylor, April 17, 1850; also by John M. Clayton as Sec. of State. For the "St. Patrick" out of New York.
13. Signed by Millard Fillmore, 1850; also by Daniel Webster as Sec. of State. The document has been left blank.
14. Signed by Franklin Pierce, July 11, 1854; also by William L. Marcy as Sec. of State. For the "Contest" out of New York.
15. Signed by James Buchanan, 1857; also by Lewis Cass as Sec. of State. The document has been left blank.
An old leaf of thick paper, evidently part of the wrapper that enclosed the documents before they were mounted into this large album, bears the following ink inscription: "This package contains Old Documents (14 in number) which bear the Official Signatures of the various Presidents of the U.S. from President Washington to President Buchanan (except Genl Harrison who was President only one month). They also bear the Official Signatures of Calhoun, Clay and Webster as Sec'y of State. They are valuable as autographs and more valuable as a memento of the truly happy days of the Republic. Orry, may sometime hence, deem it his duty to present them to the Legislature of his native State, after framing. Not to be opened till Orry is able to comprehend their value." The first leaf of the album bears the following typed notice, dated Lansing, Michigan, July 24, 1915, and signed by previous owner Oramel ("Orry") B. Fuller: "This volume contains Sea Letters that were obtained by my father while he was in the Customs Service of the government at the Port of New York prior to the Civil War. He enclosed them in a sealed package, and at his death, in 1862, they were filed with other papers and were delivered to me when I became of age in 1879. The original wrapper of the package bearing a note describing the contents, written by my father, appears on the following page [see below]. In the serious questions that created the division between the North and the South and which were settled by the Civil War, the sympathy of my father was with the South, and the following quotation from his note on the wrapper, 'a memento of the truly happy days of the Republic,' is an evidence of his feelings during that stormy period of the history of our nation. The reference to 'Orry' in the note is a reference to myself. My father's suggestion in the note that I present the letters to the legislature of my native state (New Jersey) I have not adopted, as having come to the state of Michigan in early childhood, I feel I am a part of that state. As mementos of the early days of the Nation these letters will increase in historical value as the years pass, and hope Harold will preserve them." Taped to this leaf is a typed note stating that "Mr. Harold B. Fuller in 1948 made a trip to New York City to have an appraisal made by a collector of rare documents and signatures. The largest offer, by one of the collectors was $450 at that time. He had decided these documents were more valuable to hold and would become more valuable in the coming years." Taped to that note is an old newspaper clipping with the headline: "Sea Letters: $10,000 Worth Owned by Lansing Man." Laid into the album is a typed inventory of the documents, which notes: "The above Sea Letters were bound in book form by Wm. L. Hermes, with his compliments in July 1915, and they are in my desk in the office of the Auditor General. 2-8-19." The album is accompanied by an old portfolio containing numerous Fuller family photographs and memorabilia.
The Thomas Jefferson document is folded once, with old tape reinforcements along the fold on the verso (the fold does not touch Jefferson's signature); the James Buchanan document is folded twice (not touching Buchanan's signature), with a few splits along fold and small tape reinforcements on verso. Remaining documents unfolded and fine, with fragile paper and wax seals intact. An exceptional archive, with a fascinating provenance.