Skinner

Auctioneers and Appraisers

Documents & Letters

Documents and letters include rare manuscripts, important personal and business correspondence, and any significant papers or photographs signed by heads of state or other prominent figures.

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Original letters and documents defy time, delivering the full power of seemingly distant historic and literary events right into a reader’s hands. A letter from the American Revolution in which a soldier asks his mother to send a warm coat makes the realities of his time and place palpable. Even a short note penned in haste by a literary luminary like Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, or Walt Whitman can have a stirring effect on a lover of language.

For thousands of years, humans have kept written records. Before the invention of movable types and the printing press, all words were written by hand. Well into the 19th century, handwriting continued to be the most common mode for recording and transmitting personal and official correspondence, legal documents, diaries, and business accounts. As a result, old hand-written papers are quite plentiful; without direct connections to an interesting figure or time, an old document is not necessarily valuable. The most important documents and letters have a value that needs no explanation. Skinner sold a signed manuscript draft of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery for $225,150.

Collectors are inspired to seek out letters written and signed by the founding fathers, renowned literary figures, artists, musicians, and famous scientists or inventors. Anything directly related to these cultural giants is most desirable. An Abraham Lincoln or George Washington signature has added value when attached to a document created at a critical moment in history. An archive of papers that tells the whole story is more valuable still.

Skinner auctions attract an international audience of collectors and dealers, while the auction house’s deep roots in New England provide a competitive advantage when it comes to handling documents and letters relevant to American history.

Rare document appraiser Devon Gray curates Skinner Books & Manuscripts auctions and has a wealth of experience in evaluating manuscripts, letters, and signatures. Contact Skinner to discuss buying or consigning a rare document, letter, or important signature.

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