Hamilton, Up Close


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Rare original documents on display at the Antiquarian Book Fair


Photos



  • Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull, 1806. Image from Wikimedia Commons




  • Alexander Hamiliton documents. Image courtesy Seth Kaller, Inc.




  • Hamilton signature. Image courtesy Seth Kaller, Inc.



In a development sure to delight history buffs and fans of the musical “Hamilton” alike, a collection of original letters and documents offering a rare glimpse into the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton will be displayed for the first time at this week’s New York Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armory.

The collection, assembled by historic document dealers Seth Kaller and John Reznikoff, consists of over 1,000 items relating to Hamilton and the founding of the United States, including original letters handwritten by Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin. The asking price for the collection is $2.3 million.

Among the highlights is a 1780 love letter from Hamilton to his future wife Eliza Schuyler, sent from the field during the Revolutionary War in the midst of their courtship. “You are certainly a little sorceress and have bewitched me,” Hamilton writes, continuing, “I love you more than I ought.” Later in the letter, he teases Eliza and shows a bit of his famous ego, writing, “It is again an age since I have heard from you. I write you at least three letters for your one, though I am immersed in public business and you have nothing to do but to think of me.”

Hamilton even jokes to Eliza about finding “a new mistress” while he is away, before assuring her that to do so would only cause him disquiet and “make me return to you with redoubled tenderness.”

“I’m sure a couple of decades later he wished he hadn’t acted on that,” Kaller said with a laugh. Years later, Hamilton became embroiled in a sordid blackmail scheme that has been called the nation’s first sex scandal, and publicly admitted carrying on an extramarital affair in a document known as the Reynolds Pamphlet. An 1800 printing of the pamphlet is included in the collection.

Other notable pieces include a 1788 first edition of “The Federalist,” Hamilton’s collected essays advocating for the ratification of the Constitution, and a lock of Hamilton’s hair, kept by his descendants for generations. The collection also includes dozens of letters and documents from other notable figures of the period that provide additional context about contemporary culture and politics.

While the average “Hamilton” fan won’t be in the market to purchase the collection, a number of the most impressive items will be on display for all visitors to the Antiquarian Book Fair. In contrast to the formality of a museum setting, the book fair offers visitors the opportunity to get an intimate look at original documents and, in many cases, hold history in their hands. “We’re used to people getting much closer to the documents,” Kaller said. “You can really get up close and personal.”

Other highlights of this year’s show include a book adaptation of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” signed by Walt Disney and 51 of the film’s animators and a first edition of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.”

The New York Antiquarian Book Fair runs March 9-12 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue. Daily admission is $25.




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