Friday, April 16, 2010

Signer Thomas Lynch and his Library

One of the (many) lots from Sotheby's Copley library sale on Wednesday that intrigued me was Lot 123, a book signed by Thomas Lynch, Jr., (1749-1779), a signer of the Declaration of Independence from South Carolina. The book sold for $40,625. Sotheby's cited in their catalog an article in the Spring 1960 Harvard Library Bulletin by Joseph E. Fields, "A Signer and his Signatures, or the Library of Thomas Lynch, Jr." (pp. 210-252), so I looked that up and found there a transcription of the portion of Lynch's inventory pertaining to books, plus a number of additional books known to contain Lynch's autograph. Using those lists, I've put Lynch's library online at LibraryThing, and you can browse it here. He's the eighth signer of the Declaration whose library we've documented so far (the others are Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Witherspoon, Elbridge Gerry, Lewis Morris, and George Wythe, and there are more to come).

Lynch (1749-1779) was the only Signer to have been educated in the classical English manner (Eton and the Middle Temple), and also has the distinction of being part of the only simultaneous father-son duo in the Continental Congress (for a few months in 1776). His father too could have signed the Declaration of Independence, but was too ill to attend sessions and died in December 1776 on the way home to South Carolina. Lynch himself was in seriously ill health and left Congress in October 1776, never to return. He and his wife were lost at sea when a ship carrying them to France in late 1779 (to take advantage of the French climate in the hope that it would improve Lynch's health) went down in the Caribbean.

Lynch's autograph is one of the rarest among the Signers, so because he had the habit of writing his name in his books, they have been pretty well mercilessly plundered for his signature. Of ~130 volumes known to have belonged to Lynch (amounting to 38 titles), nine remain intact; the rest have had the signatures clipped out (mostly by Lynch's nieces and nephews and their descendants in response to requests from autograph-hunters). When Signer-mania struck in the mid-19th century, even Lynch books then in the Apprentices' Library Society in Charleston (which later merged with the Charleston Library Society) weren't safe: Fields notes in his article that Charleston minister Samuel Gilman wrote to his friend the autograph-hound I.K. Tefft on 2 May 1845:

"Visiting the Apprentices' Library last evening, I asked the Librarian if he had any books with the inscription of T. Lynch Jr.'s name. He immediately brought me four volumes, from which I cut the enclosed. ... I have requested the Librarian to keep his eye on other books for the same signature, as he thinks there may be several in the Library." (Cringe-worthy, no?).

Clipped signatures from various of Lynch's books are now around the country in various institutional collections, mostly in collections of Signer autographs. One of the few remaining complete books was sold as Lot 9 of the third part of the Forbes Collection at Christie's in 2005, for $36,000. Some of the others were known to be in private collections in 1960, and any updates on their whereabouts (or on additional known Lynch books), will always be appreciated.