Friday, June 20, 2008

On Hamilton's "Report on Manufactures"

Earlier this week I noted in my Christie's auction report that a scarce first edition of Alexander Hamilton's 1791 Report on the Subject of Manufactures sold for $206,500. This morning I was browsing through the new catalogue from the William Reese Company (No. 263, Recent Acquisitions in Americana) and stumbled across another copy of the Report. Reese's copy, described in the catalogue as "about good," contains four leaves in facsimile and has had some fairly extensive repairs.

Reese's description makes the rarity of this report quite clear: "Copies of this document have long been held by some of the country's older libraries [ESTC lists 21 total], but very few have come onto the market in modern times. Some twenty years ago the late Edwin Wolf II, in his capacity as director of the Library Company of Philadelphia, was asked by the staff of a large institutional collection of American economic history about the possibilities of acquiring a copy of Hamilton's report. After considerable research, Wolf concluded that no copy, as far as he could determine, had ever changed hands. We know of only a handful of copies which have come onto the market since then, three of them deaccessioned as uncatalogued duplicates by the New York Historical Society."

The copy now offered by Reese, which they conclude is "somewhat wounded," is available for $10,000. For such a rare item, that seems a bargain even with the faults. The most recent complete copy to sell before this week went for $120,000 (with premiums) last October at Bloomsbury, while the "tattered" Forbes Collection copy made $54,000 at Christie's in November 2006.