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fur the value of my collection." '

Another anecdote is related of Mr. Telft. which illustrates
how accident sometimes furnishes what the most patient
inquiry had failed to supply. Visiting a gentleman's resi-
dence near Savannah — apparently after J 845 — Mr. Tefft,
finding the owner absent, walked out on the lawn; when a
paper was blown across liis path, and listlessly picking it
up, he jovfuUy discovered it to be one of the rare autographs
of'a Georgia Signer of the Declaration —the only one he
then lacked to complete his set, and of which he had long
been in active imrsuit. When the owner returned, and Mr.
Telft had transacted his businsss with him, he was asked
to specify the amount of his fee. " Nothing," said Mr. Telft,
'• if you will allow me to keep this piece of paper I found
on your lawn." The owner replied that he was welcome to
it; that its writer had once occupied the place, and his own
servants had recently cleaned an old garret of papers of
which this was a waif. Mr. Telft related this circumstance
with great enthusiasm, and evidently valued tliis prodigal
more than any other of the rarities of his many years of
preserving search.'^ This it would seem, was the auto-
graph of Button Gwinnett, the rarest not only of the Georgia
signers, but, save Lynch, of the whole innnortal fiftysix.

Mr. Telft, after having formed one full set of autographs
of the Signers of the Declaration, and lacking only three of
another, and having made a splendid collection of other
notable characters of both continents, died at Savannah,
June ;JU, 180:i. He was a noble man, and liberally assisted
his fellow collectors with (duplicates — especially of Thomas
Lynch, Jr., that rarest of autographs of the Signers. In

' American Antiquarian, Aug., 1870.

^ Historical Mafjazine, April, 1862; American Antiquarian, Nov., 1870.
25-H. C.

378 Wisconsin State Histokical Society.

ISOr), Almon W. GriswolJ, Esq., of New York, purchased of
Mr. Telft's widow both sets of tlie autographs of the Siguers
of the DecUxration, and one of the Signers of the Constitu-
tion. One set of the Declaration Signers was subsequently
sold through 111. French, to the New York State Library;
and the other, though not quite complete, was disposed of a
few years since, througli ^Messrs. Sabin Sc Sons, to Jus. W.
Drexel, of New York. The remainder of iVIr. Teift's valu-
able collection was sold at auction in New York, in .March,
18G7, the catalogue lilling ;iOi page's, and estimated to com-
prise some twenty-live thousand specimens.

Dr. Sprague commenced his collection apparently as early
as the autumn of 1815 — as soon, perhaps, as Mr. Telft, and
possibly even earlier. " To him," says Charles F. Fisher,
of rhiladelphia, " more than to any otiier single individual in
the country, are we probably indebted for the discovery
and preservation of large nuisses of invaluable correspond-
ence of the Colonial and lievolutionary times, which in old
trunks and boxes, in garrets and cellars, were fast hasten-
ing to decay, and exposed daily by accident or carelessness
to destruction, until rescued by his z<;alous and untiring

Dr. Sprague was born at Andover, Conn., October 10, 17'J5,
and graduated at Yale College in LSJa. During the latter
part of his senior year in college, he was invited, through
the Hon. Timothy Pitkin and Prof. Silliman, of Yale, to go
to Virginia, as an instructor in the family of Maj. Lawrence
Lewis, a nephew of Gen. Washington, whose wife, nee
Eleanor Park Custis, was the graml-daughter of i\Irs. Wash-
ington, and the adopted daughter of the Great Chief. He
accepted the invitation, and, accordingly, in the autumn of
1815^ he set out for j\[aj. Lewis' country seat, Woodlawn,
which had been a part of Washington's plantation, near
Mount Vernon. Here he .was cordially received, and re-
mained as a tutor in the family until June, IS Hi.'

It was diu'ing this period — embracing probably nearly

'Charles B. Moore's Memoir of Dr. Sprague, in N. Y. Genculogic—Bio-
grajilik'ul Record, Jan., 1877.

AuTOGRAnis OF THE Signers. 379

all of it — that he obtained pormissiou fro.n Judge Bashrod
■Washington, who inherited the papers of his distinj^uished
uncle, to take whatever letters he might choose from Gen.
Washington's voluminous correspondence, provided only
that he would leave copies in their stead. The result was, that
he came into possession of some fifteen liundred letters, many
of which were included in the three sets of the Signers
which* he completed. " Of course," writes his son, AVm. B.
Sprague, Jr., " many other autographs were obtained from
friends by way of e.Ychange; but a very large number of
his collections were addressed to Washington, and bear his
endorsement." Dr. Knnnet had thought, from what Dr..
Spraguo had told him, that the latter had with his exchange
with 7\li\ Ttfft, made up from his Washington collection a
full set of the Signers, and all the C^enerals of the Uevolu-

Mr. Gratz states, that of Dr. Sprague's best set of Signers,
which eventually came into his possession, twenty-one Avero
addressed to Washington; and, from this set, five had prev-
iously been exchanged with Dr. Emmet, including the
Lynch letter, and letters of Hey ward and ]\[iddleton. Mr.
Gratz adds, that a few of the letters in his set of the Signers,
obtained b} Dr. Sprague from the Washington manuscripts,
are represented in duplicate in the second Sprague set of
the signers, now belonging to the Pennsylvania Historical
Society. It would appear, therefore, that aside from some
duplicates, Dr. Sprague did not acquire from the Washing-
ton manuscripts to exceed twenty-nine letters of the Signers,
— except duplicates, a little more than one half of the
whole number. He probably had to exchange duplicates
for many he did not possess, not only with Mr. Telit, as Dr.
Emmet states; but with several others, as indicated by Wm.
B. Sprague, Jr.

There is a pretty general opinion with our oldest and
mosi intelligent autograph collectors, that Dr. Spraguo ori-
ginated the idea of making a collection of the autographs
of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence; and that
he was undoubtedly the first to complete his set. The date
of its completion is not known — it was, however, prior to

380 Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Ks;>5; for B. B. Thatcher's letter in June, of that year, repro-
duced in Burns' Anwrican AufiqiKirum of September, J^]'\,
states that Hubert Gihnor, of Baltimore, had made his col-
lection of the Signers complete, with the single exception of
Lynch; and adds: " Kov. ]Mr. Sprague has out run him in
this field, for lie has the whole, and so has Dr. Kallh-s, of
Liverpool, and ///(\s-(3 cire the oiilij tico contplele 6'ets in the
icorld.'" Dr. 11 illles' collection was not yet complete; it still
lacked, at least George Taylor's autograph. Jfon. ]\Iel]en
Chamberlain states, tliat when he visited Dr. Sprague at
Albany, in Ibis, he thinks he then had two complete sets —
one designed for his son.

Dr. Sprague passed away May 7th, 1S7G, but not until he
had gathered one of the largest and most valuable piivate
collections of autographs in this country — numbering, it is
said, forty thousand specimens. He completed thrte sets
of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence — two of
which remain intact, and hereafter noticed; while the third
set has been broken up, and gone to iinj)rove, or till up de-
ficiences in other sets — some in completing that of our own

Mr. Thatcher testified, in 18:j.5, to Dr. Sprague's wonderful
collection — as "at the head of the lint lomjo uitcrv(ill<),he-
ing composed of twenty thousand specimens at least — an
enormous multitude, indicating most significantly, the vast
pains which must have been taken by that intelligent,
amiable, and indefatigable enthusiast to enhance the extent
of his treasures."

Dr. Sprague was a man of remarkable industry. Beside
his pulpit ministrations, he wrote no less than sixteen dif-
ferent works between 1S21 and is(j« — one ^iaiial.s of the
Ainericaii I'ulpit, is a production of great merit, in nine
volumes. He also wrote numerous introductions to bio-
graphical and other works, was a contributor to Appleton's
Neiv Aiiiericdu Cijclopedui, and was the author of more
than one hundred pamphlets. The gathering of book ma-
terials, notably for his great work on the Ainericau Falpit,
largely contributed to the augmentation of his wonderful
autograph collection. Take him all in all, Dr. Sprague fills


a distinguished and unique place in the history of American
literature, and is accorded on all hands the highest rank
among the early American autograph collectors.

liobert Gilmor, of Baltimore, was also an early and suc-
cessful collector of autographs. He was a man of liberal
means; and one year, while in Europe, he expended tliirty
thousand dollars for paintings, autographs, and other ob-
jects of virtu. Dr. dared Sparks, who resided a while in
Baltimore, aided Mr. Qilmor very materially. Mr. Thatch-
er's description of his collection, as it existed early in ISIJo,
represents it as less voluminous, but more general and valu-
able, autographically considered, than Dr. Sprague's. It
was very rich in specimens of noted English and French
characters — Mr. Thatcher enumerating many of them.
]\lr. Gilmor lived to supply his wanting Lynch autograph;
and dying, at the age of seventy-four, Nov, 30, LSty, his
collection mainly passed into the hands of Mr. Eerd. J,
Dreer, of Philadelphia, including his set of the Signers,
while another portion was scattered, and aided matorially
in making up and improving other collections. In his life-
time, Mr. Gilmor had bestowed upon the Maryland Histor-
ical Society a rich array of manuscripts, illustrating the
period of the French and Revolutionary wars; and these
Gilmor Papers will long serve to perpetuate his memory.

The deaths of several of the Signers during the Revolu-
tionary c-ntest — JMorton and Gwinnett, in 1777; Living-
ston, in 1778; Ilewes and Lynch, in 1779; Hart, in 17SU;
Taylor and Stockton, in 1781 — so soon after appending
their names to the immortal Declaration, have contributed
to render their autographs exceedingly rare in any form.
Those of the otlier North and South Carolina Signers, to-
gether with those of Thornton, Samuel Adams, Ellery^
Lewis ]\Iorris, Stone, Wythe, Braxton, Heyward, ]\Iiddlelon
and Hall are also among those most difficult to obtain.

Sometime prior to 1834, Dr. Sprague was so fortunate as
to obtain a Lynch signature from Gen James Hamilton of
South Carolina, a nephew of that Signer, which he generously
sent to Dr. Rallies; and Mr. Tefft supplied his Englibli friend

382 Wisconsin State Historical Society.

•with a receipt signed by Gwinnett. Still, Dr. Rallies lacked
a Taylor autograph to complete his collection — so he wrote
to Mr. Telft. This letter was shown to Rev. Dr. Samuel
Gilman, of Charleston, S. 0, on his first visit to Mr. Tefft,
in ISoi: "I now," wrote Dr. Rallies, " possess every Signer
of the Declaration of Independence, save one, viz.: George
Taylor." On Dr. Gilmau's second visit, early in 1837,' Mr.
Teirt showed him a letter from Dr. Raliles, '"recently
received " in which he said: " Pray, are your Signers com-
plete? I look with mingled emotions of sorrow and hope
upon the only ///«//(.■> I have in mine." How the good Doc-
tor's heart must have leaped for joy, when he, not long
thereafter, opened a letter from his fellow collectoi-. Dr.
Sprague, to find the long-songht '' hiatus " supplied. It was
a legal docun:ient, with the Christian name of the signature
unfortunately torn ofl" — still, it served to perfect his set of
the Signers. Its genuineness v>'as vouched for by Dr.
Sprague as an " original manuscript of (George Taylor one
of the Signers.""

Mr. Telft's first collection of the Signers, at the time of
Dr. Gilman's second visit, in \S:',7, was still far from being
complete. Ife had then recently received from his friend.
Dr. Sprague, of Albany, among numerous other invaluable
specimens, the autograph of Richard Stockton, one of the
Signers of the i)eclaration. ''It had been for years," adds
Dr. Gilman, " upon his list of desiderata, and was almost
despaired of, as being probably no longer extant."" }Ie still
lacked seventeen autographs to make up his set of the Sign-
ers — those of Thornton, Floyd, Lewis Morris, Hart, 3iIor-

' The dates of these two visits are deterintiied by the time of their puh-
lication in The Rof^e, a literary j)urnal, edited by Dr. Ciihuan and lady, at
Charltston — tlie llrst jiart of .1 ]\'cck Among Auto{]i\rii}i.-\ apiiearinj^ iii
the isbue of April 18, 1835; while the results of the secwjid visit are given
from June lU, to July 8, 1837. Tlie p;iperd on these visits were reitruduced,
first in Mrs. Caroline Gilman's c]uirniiii}.c volume I'oi'tnj of TruvcUng, in
1838; and somewhat enlarged in Dr. Oilman's Contributions to
Literature, in 1856. A file of The Rose is preserved by Dr. Gilman's
daughter, Mrs. Eliza Gilman Lippitt, of Washington, who has kindly fur-
nished these dates from that source.

Autographs of the Sigxek3. 3S3

ton, Ross, Smith, Taylor, Wilson, Read, Rodney, Stone,
]^raxton. Nelson, Penn, Lynch and jMiddleton. These defi-
cien'i^es having been made known by the publication of Dr.
Oilman's jjaper, ^1 Wet'Jc AinoiKj Autonraiilis, attracted the
notice of persons who furnished him with these dcs id end a —
President Sparks alone sending him three letters. Whether
the fortunate discovery of the Lynch signatures by J)r,
Gilman, in 18 Jo, served to complete ^Ir. Teli"t's first set, we
are not informed; but when Dr. (Oilman published his Con-
inhutioiiH to LiteraUire in J85(j, in wliich his autograph es-
say is re-proilucetl, he states, that since its original publica-
tion, and in consc(iuence of its appearance, Mr. Telft
had completed his collection. Mr. Cist, in the Jli.stor-
icid Mcujdzine of August, ]sr>!), says "it was perfected many
years ago.'" ]\lr. 'J\ Ill's indomitable perseverance — with
a supply of the L}'nch signature to bank on — enabled him,
in a few years, and prior to the out break of our civil war,
to form nearly a second set, lacking only Paine, Sherman
and Stone.

Up to IS 15, no collection of the Signers was complete, save
only ])r. Sprague's and Dr. Ptahles'. In April and jMay of
that year, l>r. Oilman obtained for i\lr. Telft several signa-
tures of Tliomas Lynch, Jr., cut from a volume of Latin
translations made by him while at college, preserved by liis
nieces, the Misses IJowman, of Charleston, and from lly
leaves of printed books formerly belonging to Yiw Lynch,
which had been presented by I\Ir. Bowman, who had mar-
ried a sister of the Signer, to the Apprentices' Library of
that city; and these ijrecious signatures were presented by
Dr. Oilman to Mr. Tetit, at whose solicitation he had pro-
cured them. ^Ir. Tefft at once shared his rich acquisition
with Mr. Gilmor, J^dr. Cit-t and others, thus enabling them
to complete their collections; and with Dr. Sprague for his
additional sets. Hon. Llellen Chamberlain writes: "Iwas
at Dr. Sprague's house in Alba,ny, I think in 18i8, and he
then had two complete sets of the Signers — one of wliich he
designed for his son." The discovery of the Lynch signa-
tures has had the happy effect of completing no less than
twenty collections of the Signers, while at least one

: . , • ! •

38i Wisconsin State Historical Society.

other is known to be in a set yet incomplete, an'i that of
Dr. Gibbes, destroyed at the burning of Columbia.

The difference in the character and attractiveness of these
several collections is very striking. One of the most distin-
guished collectors in the country very justly remarks: ''The
diflterent sets of the Signers that are owned in the United
States vary greatly in character, interest and value. Some
of them are as much superior to others as a perfect Caxton
imprint is superior to one that is largely made up of leaves
in fac ainiile. Some are composed, to a great extent, of
A. L. S. of the period, on public matters, while others are
formed mainly of letters and documents of a private busi-
ness character, written at a date remote from IT 70."

It is not strange, that some autographs of the Signers —
notably that of Lynch — have been counterfeited. "A few
years ago," says the American Aiituiuarian of Nov., ISTO,
"a well dressed man called to see one of the most eminent
collectors in Philadelpiiia, and offered to sell him a letter of
Thomas Lynch, Jr., which he claimed to have discovered
somewhere in the South. A single glance satisfied the col-
lector that it was a base forgery, and tearing the document
in pieces, he handed back the fragments to the stranger, who
accepted them, and retired without saying another word."
As the rare specimens of the Signers become still more rare,
and consequently of enchanced value, the temptation to
counterfeit them will be greater.

One of the most discriminating autograph collectors in
this country, writes: "There are many collections that
would be considerably decreased in size, if an expert were
to examine them, and cast out all the letters or documents
that are not goimine, or not written by the persons whose
handwriting they are intended to represent."

The danger of taking the son for the father, or via' versa,
or the v/rong man of the same name, has been vecy properly
suggested by Mr. Burns, as well as by the autograph col-
lector just quoted. There were two Lynches, faiher and
son, so of Hart, Carroll, and Heyward. There were two
Eichard Stocktons, father and son, both eminent lawyers
and statesmen of New Jersey — the Signer dying in 1761,

Autographs of the Signers. 385

while the son outlived the father forty-seven years, and
whose autograph, by those not familiar with such things,
and unobserving of dates, has been mistaken for the


There were two B injamin Harrisons, near relatives, and
both prominent in public affairs in Virginia during the Rev-
olution—one, the Signer, was contra-distinguished from the
other as Benjamin Harrison of Berkley; while his kins-
man was known as Benjamin Harrison of Brandon — Berk-
ley and Brandon being the names of their rsspective seats
on the banks of the James River. Virginia also furnished
two Thomas Nelsons- Thomas Nelson, tir., familiarly
known as Secretary Nelson, who resided in Yorktown, was
the unsuccessful competitor of Patrick Henry for the hrst
term of Governor of Virginia under the Constitution of irri),
and when, shortly after, chosen one of the Privy Council,
he decliiuHl on account of the intimities of age; while his
nephew, Thomas Nelson, Jr., also of York county, who
was the Signer, became Governor during the life-time of his
namesake uncle. The father of Secretary Nelson, and
grand father of Gov. Nelson, also bare the christian name

of Thomas.

It may be added, that Josiah Bartlett, Robert Treat Paine,
Oliver Wolcott, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris, George Ross,
and others of the Signers, had sons of the same name. Col.
James Smith, of Pennsylvania, afterwards of Kentucky,
has some times been mistaken for his namesake, the Signer.
George Taylor, also of Pennsylvania, had a counterpart
of the same name. There was a second John Morton, a
Philadelphia Quaker merchant, sometimes mistaken for the
Signer. " I have," writes Mr. Stauffer, "a series of about
thirty-five letters that 1 call my set of utoiuj men, wh(. had
the same name, and nourished at the same period as
the genuine ones." These are points that require the
care and knowledge of an expert, in order to prevent errors,
which experienced collectors are constantly on the alert to
detect, and the mere suspicion of the existence of one of
which, would injure the reputation of a set amongst con-

38G Wisconsin State Historical Society.

noisseurs.' The recent sale, writes I\If. Burns, of the Cist
collection of Si^^ners, always counted among the complete
sets extant, disclosed the fact, that the autographs of Hart
and Taylor were not of the right men.

The progress of forming sets of the signers has been slow
from the stiirt. It took from 1S15 to well on towards 18:)o,
for Dr. Sprague to complete his first collection; and till 18:)7
before Dr. KifihiS succeeded in procuring the last of his
lifty-six autographs. In Lst^, we judge, Mr. Gilmor com-
pleted his set; aud others probably not very long thereafter.

In August, 18 ;o, ]\lr. IJiirns enumerated fourteen sets of
the Signers, namely: Dr. 11 lilies', Dr. Sprague's two sets.
New Y'ork State Library's, A. W. Gris wold's. Dr. Emmet's,
Col. ]\[yerb', :\lr. Cliamberlain's, :\lrs. Alien's, Prof. Ltdling-
well's, ^Ir. Dreer's, Mr. Davis', ]\Ir. ]llickley's,and Mr. Cist's.
The (iris wold set, now ]\lr. Drexel's, was then incomplete, anil
the i\Iickley and Cist collections have since been dispersed. In
November, 18T0, Mr. Burns announced two others as complete
— Dr. J. 1. Cohen's, and Dr. Sprague's tliird set.

Mr. SabiD,in January, 18?] , phiced the numbt-rs of sets then
in existence at seventeen, without naming them — " some of
which," he added, "are very weak in specimens, and per-
fect in completeness only." It is quite certain that there
were not so many complete sets at that day; some that
were so reckoned, doul)Lless lacked one or more speeinn'iis;
an.l some, then incomplete, have sinje been dispersed,
going to improve and complete others. As late as J.s7'>,
Mr. Brotherhead gave a list of seventeen persons in this
country engaged in making collections of autographs of
the Signers; of the e, however, four never completed tlieir
sets, and two were dispersed.

When the first edition of Brotherhead's J>o<>k of the
S'Kjncrs appeared, in 18)1, reference was ma le in a notice of
the work in the Philadelphia '' Press;' to Queen Victoria's
collection, "which we have seen in the private library at
.Windsor Castle," etc. The weU-known author, Theodore
Martin, made inquiries regarding this pretended set, and

Buruo' American Aatiquariari, Aug., 1870.

Autographs of the Signers. 38T

wrote to Mr. Brotherhead, June 21, 1875: " In his last let-
ter to me, (len. l*onsonby, Her Majesty's Pris^ate Secretary,
says: ' When Mr. Brotherhood sent a volume tlirough the
Foreign Secretary in isi;l, ho said: ' Your JMajesty already
possesses nearly a complete set of the original autogi-aphs
of the Signers.' I can Jiihl no trace of this set of autographs,
nor can I ascertain that the C^ueen possessed any of their
autograplis;" and in a letter a month later, to Mr. iJrother-
head. Gen. Ponsonby further says: " The Librarian assures
me, that no such collection is in tlie library, and liis further
search lias confirmed him in his oi)inion, that the Queen
never did possess these autographs, lie also in(][uired at
the British ^Musoutn, but no trace of any such collection can
bo found." Dr. ismmet writes: ''Queen Victoria has no
set; for I tried to see it at Windsor, and was tobi positively
that she never had one."' This should bo regarded as con-

In enumerating the collections of the Signers extant, ^Mr.
Burns, in the August number, 1810, of his AnfujiKirian,
referred to the Queen's sujiposed set, adding: " Of this, we
know nothing further than its existence. Can any one tell us
whether it is an original collection, or that of the lie v. Dr.
Rallies?" As it was well-known, that the Queen had
secured no set of the Signers in this country, it was very
naturally surmised, that she had obtained Dr. Piailies' col-
lection; but it transpires that the Doctor's set has never
passed out of the possession of his family.

Daring our civ^il war, a oniplete colh;ction of the Signers,
gathered by the late Prof. Robert W. Gibbes, of Columbia,
S. C, was destroyed at the burning of that city — of its conr-
position, we have no knowledge; of course, to have been
complete, it must have included a liynch signature. 1 )uriny:
the past seventeen years, three full sets have been dispersed
— Mr. Mickley's, one of Dr. Sprague's and Mr. Cist's, while
nine have been completed, riamtdy: i\lr. (Jratz's, Dr. Fogg's
two sets, Wisconsin Historical Society's, two additional ones
by Dr. Emmet, two by Col. Jones, of Georgia, and J. M. Hale's.

It is doubtful if more than a single other set, in ad-
dition to the present number of the Signers, is ever com-

388 Wisconsin State Historical Society.

pleted; though possibly some of the incomplete sets extant,

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