History

Rare Hamilton letter sells for almost $9,000

This previously unknown letter penned by Alexander Hamilton sold for almost $9,000 in a Sacramento auction.
This previously unknown letter penned by Alexander Hamilton sold for almost $9,000 in a Sacramento auction. Witherell’s

As more details about its history percolate to the surface, a rare letter penned by Founding Father Alexander Hamilton sold for $8,856, including premiums, in a Sacramento auction.

“People called from all over the country,” said Brian Witherell, who sold the previously unknown and unrecorded Revolutionary War military document Wednesday at Witherell’s auction house.

Pre-auction estimates of the letter – a short note requesting a signature – were $1,000 to $5,000. The New York buyer, Jonathan Mann, bid online.

“It’s a wonderful piece of American history,” Mann said by phone. “I actually bought it for a friend (who chooses to remain anonymous). He’s also passionate about history. He saw it on the news and called me about it. So, after a brief trip to New York, it’s going to be staying in California. Hopefully, it will be used to excite others about (Hamilton). Documents like this are tangible touchstones to great men, great women and our great history.”

Jay Feagles, co-owner of Dunnigan Realtors in Sacramento, was the letter’s seller. The document had been in his family for more than 80 years.

“My maternal grandmother found the letter between the pages of a book in a one-room schoolhouse in Connecticut,” Feagles explained. “She was a music teacher during the Depression and traveled to these small schools in the rural part of southern Connecticut. She found some old books in a schoolhouse and there was the letter.”

Feagles’ grandmother also was a Daughter of the American Revolution, he said. She knew her history and recognized Hamilton’s name. The letter was passed down to Feagles’ mother and eventually him.

“I decided it was a good time to let it go because of the interest in ‘Hamilton,’ the musical,” he said. “I figured it was better to put it back into circulation, in the hands of a collector or museum, instead of just sitting in a safe for years.”

Academics also took an immediate interest in the letter. Hamilton historian Michael Newton, a leading authority on the nation’s first treasurer, determined that the letter was dated June 1781 (a year earlier than previously thought) and was sent to Capt. George Fisher of Fishkill, N.Y., while Hamilton was also in Fishkill at that time.

With more than 300 lots, Witherell’s “Weapons & War: Objects of Heroism and Tragedy” auction featured items spanning three centuries of conflict. Sold for $24,600, the sale topper was a World War II letter demanding surrender, written in German and dated Dec. 22, 1944, sent to the commander of American troops in Bastogne, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe. (He famously replied, “Nuts!”) Found among the general’s private papers in a Sacramento bedroom by McAuliffe’s daughter, the letter is considered among the most significant documents to survive from the European field of combat after the D-Day landings, according to Witherell.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

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