Friday, September 07, 2007

Davy, Davy Crockett ...

It would appear that the state of Texas recently forked over $490,000 to purchase a copy of Davy Crockett's 'last letter,' written two months before he died at the Alamo.

Scott Brown at Fine Books Blog has been all over this story, and since I don't want to duplicate his work (nor hopelessly attempt to to improve upon it) I'm just going to link to his many posts from yesterday:

First, Scott introduces the story and provides images of the Texas letter and a known Crockett holograph letter. Then, some hi-res handwriting comparison and the note "If I had to guess, I'd say this was a fair copy of the letter, not a forgery - that is to say, if the letter turns out not to be in Davy Crockett's hand, the person who made it didn't intend to deceive, s/he simply wanted to make a copy."

Soon Scott heard that the Texas Historical Commission was "starting the verification process" and has up to 190 days to cancel the purchase, and was told by a "leading autograph dealer" that in the Crockett letter purchased by the state, "none of the characteristics of Davy Crockett letters I have on file show up."

Then came the price comparisons, in which Scott showed that Crockett letters rarely fetch more than $25,000 at auction, let alone $490,000 (the gallery owners who sold the letter to the state are quoted as saying "The document likely could have sold for a much higher price in an open auction, ... but the family wanted to offer it to Texas first."

Eventually, Scott received word from Debbi Head, Senior Communications Specialist at the Texas Historical Commission. She told him that the letter was purchased quickly, before authentication: "The opportunity to purchase came pretty suddenly, and we didn't want to let it slip away." Until the verification process is complete, she said, the money paid for the letter is in escrow, and they'll be "looking to procure the best forensic and signature experts" to check out the letter.

Seems to me that whoever's responsible for this purchase at the state level got a little bit ahead of the game.

This morning, the Associated Press reports on the questions raised, including comments from Everett Wilkie and Kevin MacDonnell saying that the letter is almost certainly a fair copy, judging by the correct spellings and punctuation, handwriting, &c. Most surprising is the quote from Ms. Head, who told the AP she's "'99.9 percent sure' the letter is real. 'We just want to have it authenticated by our experts to put us at 100 percent certainty that this is the real document.'" Seller Ray Simpson agreed, saying "I am very positive that this is the original Davy Crockett letter. We do think it's right, and we do think it will be proven through the state's third-party investigation."

I guess we'll just have to see about that; it certainly looks like a fair copy to me.

More to come, I'm sure.