A complete set of all 56 men who signed this historic document, this collection represents the ultimate accomplishment in American autograph collecting. Of the precious few complete collections of Signers known to exist, this set is one of the finest quality sets ever offered. Most of the examples are substantial-length letters, many of which feature significant historical content by some of the nation’s most important Founding Fathers.
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The centerpiece of any complete set of Signers is the rarest of them all, the autograph of Button Gwinnett. According to the most recent published census, only 51 examples of his hand are known to exist—and only eleven remain in private hands. The Proctor-Sang-Newell Collection features a superb example: a historic 1773 document signed by the Georgia Signer at an important moment in his life. The Gwinnett is complemented by other rare and uncommon Signers including Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton, Joseph Hewes, John Penn, Thomas Nelson, Jr., George Taylor, and Lyman Hall. It is the enormous scarcity of these signatures that make collecting all 56 Signers a near impossible feat. The collection was first assembled by the noted collector Thomas R. Proctor (1884–1920) of Utica, New York. Proctor, as evidenced by the contents of this incredible holding, was an extremely sophisticated collector who not only venerated the Founding Fathers and their sacrifices for American independence, but had a deep and nuanced understanding of the history of the American Revolution. To enhance presentation, Proctor laid each piece into a larger sheet and had the set bound by Bradstreets in elaborately gilt scarlet morocco, with gilt-tooled morocco doublures with the names of the thirteen colonies housed within laurel wreathes.
Sometime after Proctor completed his collection in 1905, it was acquired by another great American collector, Philip D. Sang (1902–1975)–one of three complete sets he owned over his lifetime. In 2002, Richard Newell purchased the collection in a private sale. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and Vietnam veteran, Newell is an avid student of military history. His acquisitions of significant books, manuscripts, and philately over the past several decades have focused on key moments in America’s military conflicts, with an astute appreciation for the underlying social and economic issues behind those struggles. At the time of his purchase of the present set, Newell had already acquired two partial collections of Signers. The first was purchased in the mid 1990s from the estate of Kenneth Laurence, which included 55 of the original 56 (excluding Gwinnett). He bought a second partial set of 42 at a New York auction in 2000.
Unlike many extant collections of Signers, which consist of clipped signatures and signed documents, this assemblage features 48 handwritten letters, 22 of which were accomplished during the Revolutionary War with an additional five that date between The Boston Tea Party and the outbreak of hostilities in April 1775. Indeed, the last collection of Signers that contained as many letters signed as the present group was offered in 1967.
The quality of this collection simply can’t be overstated. Overall condition would be considered fine, with a range of expected occasional light flaws (for example, scattered soiling, light staining or foxing, unobtrusive intersecting folds, isolated small old repairs or reinforcements, etc), however this set, as a whole, displays condition far surpassing similarly available material and in essence any flaws could be dismissed as trivial. Each piece has been professionally and tastefully inlaid into a larger sheet so that reverse sides or adjoining address panels (some of which also bear franking signatures or original wax seals) are readily viewed. Piecemeal, this is a remarkable assemblage of items; as a single offering it reaches a rarified new level—a superior once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the most discriminating of collectors.