Smythe Live Winter Autograph Auction

On Thursday, January 17, auctioneers RM Smythe & Co, Inc, will hold its live Winter Autograph Auction, presenting collectors and dealers with one of the most interesting selections of historic autographs in recent memory. The sale, which begins at 11 am, features the collection of Steven Lee Carson, the fruits of fifty years of collection, with particular strength in presidential and related autographs. Following the public auction, Smythe will hold a mail bid and internet-only auction of Americana, autographs, books, photographs, philatelic items and more, beginning at 2 pm.

One of the most unusual items in the auction is an autograph book from the Carson collection containing the rare signature of James A. Garfield as President. It also contains remarkable combinations of autographs together on the same page, such as Presidents Hayes, Ford, and Carter; another page gathers together Supreme Court Justices Burger, Rehnquist, Blackmun, Brennan, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, O’Connor, Powell, Scalia, Souter, Stevens, Thomas, and White; while another sports authors and playwrights Edward Albee, EL Doctorow, Norman Mailer, Neil Simon, Salman Rushdie, Gore Vidal, and others. Another unusual combination being offered is a photograph of Richard Nixon being sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger that is signed by Nixon and Burger, but also by Henry Kissinger and President Jimmy Carter. Yet another is signed by both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, a naval appointment during the latter’s administration, with FDR signing as Acting Secretary of the Navy. Also from the Carson collection come rarities like a statement from New York Mayor Opdyke in response to the Draft Riots in 1863, and a choice content typed letter signed by Martin Luther King, Jr., explaining that “the temper of events” in the South prevents him from accepting speaking engagements too far in advance. Among Carson’s lasting interests is the life of Abraham Lincoln. Accordingly, his collection features an autograph letter signed in which the President asks Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to approve an army officer’s request to resign. A moving autograph letter signed by his widow, Mary Lincoln, is written two weeks after the death of her son, Tad, and pleads with a friend to “come, come to me” to comfort her in her “fearful sorrow.”

Modern presidents and first ladies are also present, including a choice group of ten autograph letters signed by Nancy Reagan, one of them concerning her husband’s ongoing recovery from the 1981 attempt on his life! In a stunning pair of letters, each offered separately, Theodore Roosevelt writes about his struggle to negotiate the end of the Russo-Japanese War (for which he would win the Nobel Peace Prize), complaining that the English have been “foolishly reluctant to advise Japan to be reasonable;” and admits months after leaving office that he is disappointed in President Taft, his chosen successor, adding that he has not promised never to try again for the White House! A great item from the World War I era is a page signed by principals in the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles: Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, Ferdinand Foch, and Ignace J. Paderewski, among others. In another unusual combination, the men who began and ended World War II in the Pacific, Japanese pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the bombing attack on Pearl Harbor and US pilot Paul W. Tibbets, who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, sign a First Day Cover commemorating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Other treasures abound in the Steven Lee Carson collection, but one more deserves special notice. Smythe will offer an autograph letter signed by physicist Albert Einstein in which he colludes with a dean at New York University to elude US State Department regulations and help a colleague escape from Nazi Germany!

Following the Carson collection, Smythe will continue with a characteristic selection of important and valuable autographs. In a scarce document signed as President, John Adams approves a letter of marque for a private armed US ship during the “Quasi-War” with France! A highly interesting autograph letter signed by his First Lady, Abigail Adams, sends condolences to a friend who has lost a son in service of his country in 1812. Other founders in the auction include Thomas Jefferson, in the form of an autograph letter signed as President, a letter of introduction for the son of the Secretary of the Navy; James Madison, in documents signed (one with James Monroe); and Signers Robert Morris and Thomas McKean. Two other lots from the founding era, though more modest, are of great interest: a letter from Deputy Quartermaster John Keese from 1781 about an escort for “His Excellency General Washington’s Lady [and] Colo. Hamilton’s Lady,” and a series of three fine content letters from exiled royalist Peter Van Schaack to John Jay while the latter was completing negotiations for the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

However, the sale isn’t all founders and presidents! There are world leaders, such as Winston Churchill (in a signed photograph) and Adolf Hitler (signed program); beloved names from entertainment like John Lennon (a signature with a self-portrait sketch), Laurel and Hardy (a photograph signed by both), and Boris Karloff (an autograph note signed); authors including Agatha Christie, Beatrix Potter, and HG Wells (each in autograph letters signed); scientists and inventors Thomas A. Edison (in several forms, including a letter predicting that radio will kill the record business!), Alexander Fleming, and Richard J. Gatling (asking Colt to build him a model gun); composers such as Giacomo Puccini (autograph letter signed); and popular artists like cartoonist Charles Schulz (a pencil drawing of Snoopy) and Norman Rockwell (an incredible concept sketch for one of his Post covers)! This is just a fraction of what will be offered, and anyone interested in the finest autographs should view the catalog at, or call 800-622-1880 to order a hard copy (available for $25).

As noted, after the public autograph auction, Smythe will begin the mail bid and internet-only portion of its sale, with hundreds of lots of Americana, rare and collectible books, photographs, autographs, and ephemera. Among the standouts from that section are rare tapestries commemorating the Declaration of Independence, a scarce copy of President Madison’s message to Congress with dispatches from the negotiation of the Treaty of Ghent, soldiers’ Civil War letters, and unique photographs by a GI of Marilyn Monroe’s visit to US troops in Korea in 1953!

The public portion of this auction will be held at RM Smythe’s headquarters at 2 Rector Street in the heart of the Financial District in New York City. Both the public and the mail and internet portions of the auction will run simultaneously on eBay Live Auctions. For information on lot viewing and on bidding in person, by phone, by mail, or online, call 212-913-1880 or 800-622-1880, or visit Smythe’s web site at