1779 letter by Washington sold at auction for $57,500

4-page `piece of history' goes to N.J. collector

December 14, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A rare 1779 letter that General George Washington wrote to a friend from his Army headquarters in New York, complaining about stubborn people who were prolonging the Revolutionary War, was sold for $57,500 yesterday to a New Jersey coin collector at an auction house in Towson.

Washington's four-page letter was purchased by Brian Henderson, 44, who buys and sells rare coins for a living but who has also branched out into collecting historical documents and other Americana.

"To own a piece of history like this, I feel it is a real honor," said Henderson during an interview from his home in New Jersey after he bought the letter over the phone from Alex Cooper Auctioneers in Towson. "Here was George Washington, in battle, writing this letter to his friend Bryan Fairfax in Virginia. I plan to frame it and display it in my home."

In the yellowed letter, Washington described the movement of British troops up the Hudson River to within 12 miles of where his Continental Army was encamped north of West Point. The general rails against the forces that were drawing out the war: "a want of public virtue - speculation, peculation, forestalling, monopolizing, with all their concomitants seem to have taken place."

Henderson also owns a three-piece silk suit that belonged to Washington, as well as an epaulet from one of his uniforms and a letter from Benjamin Franklin about the death of his brother in 1748. He keeps them in his house, but hopes to expand his collection and one day perhaps put it on public display.

The $57,500 bid was slightly higher than experts had predicted, and came after intense bidding between Henderson and an unnamed bidder, with both casting their bids over the telephone through agents. About 150 history buffs and collectors listened in the gallery.

"This is one of the most unique items we've ever been able to sell," said Joe Cooper, president of Alex Cooper Auctioneers.

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