T he five-part sale of “Highly Important American Historical Documents, Autograph Letters, and Manuscripts” from the Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Foundation, which extended from April 1978 to December 1981, was a watershed event in American collecting. The breadth and depth and sheer size of the collection—1,342 lots comprising several thousand manuscripts, as well as books, broadsides, maps, and artifacts—is almost unimaginable today. Even more astonishing is the consistently high significance of the content of the manuscripts. Letters and documents dispersed in the Sang Sale became the foundation stones of two equally distinguished aggregations of historical American manuscripts, the Forbes Collection and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
Philip Sang (1902–1975) is generally credited as the more dedicated collector of the two, but he was always supported by his wife, Elsie (1906–1997), who developed a deep appreciation and understanding of the primary documents that filled their home. Sang graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology and developed several business interests, particularly in pharmaceuticals. But it was another business—Goldenrod Ice Cream—that Sang would rely on to ease his way into correspondence with the offices of various dignitaries, including several presidents.
I joined Sotheby’s a few years too late to have participated in the five-part sale of property from the Sang Collection, but I have spent many hours going through its catalogues: sometimes checking provenance, sometimes just wistfully daydreaming. I did have the opportunity to catalogue a sale from the Sang Collection, however. The first business trip I ever made for Sotheby’s was with a colleague in the autumn of 1984 to visit Mrs. Sang in Chicago. She had enough splendid material remaining not only for a dedicated auction the following spring (“Fine Printed and Manuscript Americana from the Collection of Mrs. Philip D. Sang,” 27 March 1985), but to fill in gaps in our general auctions for almost another decade.
And now, from a descendent, comes another cache from the Sang Collection, all the more exciting for being unexpected. The highlights range from momentous presidential letters and documents (Abraham Lincoln thanking a schoolboy for his donation of five dollars to aid the Union cause; Ulysses S. Grant pardoning the poll workers who allowed Susan B. Anthony to vote in the 1872 election) to moving letters by First Ladies (Lucretia Garfield confiding to Queen Victoria that President Garfield’s health seems to be improving; Abigail Adams informing Ann Gerry that her husband, Elbridge, has safely arrived in Paris). The notable manuscripts in the sale range far from the White House, however, and include important manuscripts from Stephen Foster, George Gershwin, and Oscar Hammerstein II, among other American composers and lyricists.
“All in all, this is an auction worthy to be added to the roster of ‘Sang Sales.’”
While I urge you to browse the entire sale, for a bit of guidance the catalogue begins with Presidential letters and documents (lots 1−53), then moves to First Ladies (lots 54−76), then to Music (lots 77−92), and concludes with a Historical Miscellany (lots 93−113).
– Selby Kiffer
Senior Vice President, International Senior Books Specialist
Books & Manuscripts Department
President Lincoln thanks a schoolboy for his contributions to the Union cause
ESTIMATE $700,000 – 1,000,000
A great Lincoln letter rediscovered
The President thanks a schoolboy on behalf of “all the children of the nation” for his efforts to ensure "that this war shall be successful, and the Union be maintained and perpetuated."
In a wide-ranging letter to his old friend Philip Mazzei, Thomas Jefferson discusses the Louisiana Purchase
ESTIMATE $100,000 – 150,000
In a compelling and wide-ranging letter to his old friend Philip Mazzei, Thomas Jefferson expresses confidence in the "incalculable value" of the just-completed Louisiana Purchase
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