While James S. Copley had always been a voracious reader who furnished his home and office with books, his serious collecting did not begin until his appointment as Chairman to the President's Bicentennial Communications Committee. Mr. Copley's sudden immersion into all things 1776 gave his collecting a new energy and a tightened focus. This First Selection of Magnificent American Historical Documents from the Copley Library demonstrates how successful he was in finding significant manuscripts and ephemeral broadsides documenting America's pathway to independence.
The material in this catalogue highlights the causes of the American Revolution, from the Stamp Act (lot 63) to George III's "Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition" (lot 64) to the bloody skirmish at Bunker Hill (lot 49). While the celebrated names of the nations founding-John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and George Washington-are represented in abundance, it is often the letters of lesser-known figures that best convey the passions of the time.
For instance, in a letter from February 1776, Thomas Nelson, a congressman from Virginia, expresses his frustrations with his compatriots who still hope for reconciliation with Great Britain: "I do not believe were you to bid a thousand pound per scruple for Honor at the Court of Britain that you would get as many as would amount to an ounce. If Terms be propos'd they will savor so much of Despotism that American cannot accept them" (lot 136). And a letter written a bit more than two years later by Nicholas Fish, a continental officer at Valley Forge, describes the celebration in camp when news of the French-American alliance reached Washington's headquarters. A "Salute of 13 Cannon was given... & concluded with three Cheers of the Line, with the following Expression 'Long Live the King of France' (lot 51).