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Category Archives: John Wilkes Booth

RR Auctions John Wilkes Booth War-dated Handwritten Letter

RR Auctions  John Wilkes BoothWar-dated ALS signed “J. Wilkes Booth,” three pages on two adjoining sheets, 5.25 x 8, November 23, 1861. Letter written from Cincinnati to Joseph H. Simonds. In full: “I know you will forgive me, this long delay in answering your letters; if you knew better you would not wonder at it, as I avail myself of any excuse to get rid of writing, no matter how I may long to hear from the person to whom I have to write. And I confess I should like to hear from you every day. I received your photograph, a thousand thanks, I think it very good, I believe you have mine. My second week in Buffalo was so, so. I played 17 nights in Detroit to a good Bus[iness]. After here Monday night, 25th, they count high on me but I am doubtful as to my success. Maggie Mitchel is playing a good engagement here.”

At this point in the letter, Booth’s handwriting begins to get a bit more jumbled. He continues: “I should have has been; as she finished last night. My dear Joe excuse this as I am standing in the office with about a hundred people about me blowing at a fearful rate. I am not fixed yet, so I cannot go to my room. Yours of the 16th also reached me, in Detroit. It seems that Forrest is always in trouble. I am sorry his bus. is not better, for it is rough to see such trash (as Barney Williams practices on the stage), get the best of the legitimate, but such is life. Give my kindest regards to the Bugbee’s. Has Mr. B. gone to Cal. yet? I addressed a letter to him in your care, did you get it. I will write to you more intelligibly the next time, so asking you to excuse this again.” Mild toning along two horizontal mailing folds, and a couple light brushes to text, otherwise fine condition. Accompanied by the original mailing envelope, addressed in Booth’s hand and docketed by Simonds, bearing a very scarce 3¢ pink of 1861 (Scott 64) stamp.

Published in Right or Wrong, God Judge Me: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, ed. J. Rhodehamel and L. Taper, pp.93-94. Provenance: The Sang Collection (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1978), lot 46 [envelope then present]; anonymous owner (sale, Christie’s, 9 December 1993, lot 158).

On November 25, 1861, Booth opened a 10-day engagement at Wood’s Theater in Cincinnati, appearing in such favorites as Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, and the Marble Heart (a role that Lincoln once watched him perform). Standing in a hotel lobby two days prior, he penned this unusually long letter to his close friend and Boston banker Joseph Simonds; highlighting his deep involvement in the theater world, he offers several references to some of the biggest actors of the day—the scandal-plagued Edwin Forrest, rising star Maggie Mitchell (a favorite of President Lincoln’s), and the Irish-born comic actor Barney Williams. Two years later, Simonds helped Booth handle his shares in a Pennsylvania oil venture, overseeing its production (which did not prove fruitful) while Booth remained on tour. As the actor’s theatrical income declined during the war, Simonds loaned him money to help him get by, inadvertently contributing funds to an abortive plot to kidnap the president in March of 1864. Following Lincoln’s assassination, Simonds was summoned to testify about their financial dealings during the Lincoln conspirators’ trial in May of 1865. An incredibly rare letter, desirable both in its glimpse into the famed actor’s touring stage life and in its connection to a friend who would later have to answer for himself during one of America’s darkest hours. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.

http://www.rrauction.com/bidtracker_detail.cfm?IN=446

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RR Auctions John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth

Lincoln’s assassin writes to Joseph Simonds in a rare 1861 letter about his stage tour, later using Simonds as an ignorant partner in the 1864 conspiracy plot to kidnap the president

A member of the well-known Booth family of Shakespearean actors and a somewhat erratic, if popular, performer. A supporter of slavery and the South, he participated in the arrest and execution of abolitionist John Brown in 1859. In the fall of 1864, he hatched a plan to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln but the scheme failed. He then concocted the plot to assassinate Lincoln, which he did in Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, before jumping to the stage and allegedly crying out, “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!” Booth was located and killed twelve days later. War-dated ALS signed “J. Wilkes Booth,” three pages on two adjoining sheets, 5.25 x 8, November 23, 1861. Letter written from Cincinnati to Joseph H. Simonds. In full: “I know you will forgive me, this long delay in answering your letters; if you knew better you would not wonder at it, as I avail myself of any excuse to get rid of writing, no matter how I may long to hear from the person to whom I have to write. And I confess I should like to hear from you every day. I received your photograph, a thousand thanks, I think it very good, I believe you have mine. My second week in Buffalo was so, so. I played 17 nights in Detroit to a good Bus[iness]. After here Monday night, 25th, they count high on me but I am doubtful as to my success. Maggie Mitchel is playing a good engagement here.”

At this point in the letter, Booth’s handwriting begins to get a bit more jumbled. He continues: “I should have has been; as she finished last night. My dear Joe excuse this as I am standing in the office with about a hundred people about me blowing at a fearful rate. I am not fixed yet, so I cannot go to my room. Yours of the 16th also reached me, in Detroit. It seems that Forrest is always in trouble. I am sorry his bus. is not better, for it is rough to see such trash (as Barney Williams practices on the stage), get the best of the legitimate, but sich is life. Give my kindest regards to the Bugbe’s. Has Mr. B. gone to Cal. yet? I addressed a letter to him in your care, did you get it. I will write to you more intelligibly the next time, so asking you to excuse this again.” Mild toning along two horizontal mailing folds, and a couple light brushes to text, otherwise fine condition. Accompanied by the original mailing envelope, addressed in Booth’s hand and docketed by Simonds.

Published in Right or Wrong, God Judge Me: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, ed. J. Rhodehamel and L. Taper, pp.93-94. Provenance: The Sang Collection (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1978), lot 46 [envelope then present] — Anonymous owner (sale, Christie’s, 9 December 1993, lot 158, $42,550).

This rare long letter, written while standing in a hotel lobby waiting for a room, gives unusual insight into the famed actor’s touring stage life. Written to theater buff and close friend, J. H. Simonds, an ambitious Boston Bank clerk with whom Booth had interests in the Pennsylvania oil fields. The mentioned “Forrest” was the famous classical actor Edwin Forrest; his career was plagued by scandals, he had disappeared from the stage after a messy 1850s divorce, and was attempting a 1860-61 comeback. “Maggie Mitchel” was rising star Maggie Mitchell, Lincoln’s favorite actresses, who frequently acted with Booth, while “Barney Williams” was a popular Irish-born comic actor who delighted audiences as a blackface minstrel, often playing for the Union troops. “The Bugbe’s” mentioned near the letter’s closing were a Philadelphia family, known to the Booths, that moved to Boston before settling in California; John Stevenson Bugbee was living in California at this time.

Booth opened a 10-day engagement on November 25 at Wood’s Theatre in Cincinnati, appearing in, among others, Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, and The Marble Heart (which Lincoln once saw featuring Booth). Although audiences were unimpressed and the box office disappointing, The Cincinnati Commercial declared that “Mr. Booth has caught some of the fire that animated his great father.” As his theatrical income declined during the war, Booth turned to his neglected oil investments for income which Simonds had stepped in to oversee. By 1865, Simonds had loaned the actor money, including a $500 bequest that the future assassin used to buy guns and supplies for the abortive plot to kidnap Lincoln in March 1864 (unbeknown to Simonds). After the president’s assassination, Simonds was summoned to testify about Booth’s investments during Lincoln conspirators’ trial in May 1865. A highly desirable and rare letter written to a friend that Booth later used to forward his aborted kidnap plot. The letter is also noteworthy for its very scarce 3¢ pink of 1861 (Scott 64) stamp used on the mailing envelope.

The March 2012 Auction closes on Wednesday March 14, 2012

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