Having conquered Broadway, Alexander Hamilton will now be storming Sotheby’s. The auction house has announced that it will sell a trove of hundreds of manuscripts and letters long held by the Hamilton family — some of them previously unknown — at auction on Jan. 18.
The collection, which has been held by Hamilton descendants for 200 years, has not been fully cataloged. But Sotheby’s said it contained many personal items, including love letters from Hamilton to his wife, Eliza, and a condolence letter her father, Philip Schuyler, sent her after Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr, sealed with black wax.
Selby Kiffer, the international senior specialist of books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, said the letters, which include both incoming and outgoing correspondence, contain comments by Hamilton about such figures as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benedict Arnold, as well as manuscripts relating to his legal practice and political career.
“It’s highly unusual to have an archive of letters and manuscripts that are devoted to a single person that hasn’t been artificially collected but preserved by descent in that figure’s family,” he said.
While some of the material has been published or seen by scholars, Mr. Kiffer added, it was his impression that most of the letters have not.
“There are definitely unknown letters from Hamilton here,” he said.
(Sotheby’s declined to provide details about the sellers, saying only that they were a “nuclear family” rather than a larger group.)
The entire archive, Mr. Kiffer said, is estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.25 million. Among the most valuable items is Hamilton’s appointment to serve as aide-de-camp to George Washington, which carries an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. There is also a lock of Hamilton’s hair, which comes with a presentation letter Eliza wrote to one of her sisters attesting to the head it came from ($15,000-$25,000).
Mr. Kiffer said that the collection, some of which will be on public display before the sale, also contains items that will probably sell for less than scalped tickets to “Hamilton.”
“The range is really wonderful,” he said. “There will be something not only for the dedicated collector of American manuscripts, but I hope also for all the not-yet collectors who have become entranced with the story of Alexander Hamilton through the musical.”