13th President. Autograph letter signed (ALS) “Millard Fillmore” AS VICE PRESIDENT, 1 page, 7.5×9.5, Buffalo, November 8, 1849, to noted collector Louis Jacob Cist (1818-1885) honoring an autograph request.
Fillmore writes, in full:
I am honored by the receipt of your note of the 3d inst. requesting my autograph; which I accord with pleasure but as not deemed worthy of a place in the collection of those distinguished names to which you allude.
Laid in to a larger sheet, expected folds, very light soiling, else fine.
From the library of John Augustin Daly (1838-1899). Daly, one of the most important figures in nineteenth-century American theater, worked as a critic, manager, playwright and stage director. At the time of his death, he owned two major theaters, one in New York and the other in London. Daly is considered personally responsible for the careers of such acting greats as John Drew Jr. Maurice Barrymore, Fanny Davenport, Maude Adams, Sara Jewett, Isadora Duncan, Tyrone Power, Sr. and many others.
Daly was also an avid book lover and collector, amassing an enormous library of books and original manuscripts. That collection was dispersed in an epic, two-week auction at the American Art Association in New York in March 1900. The present letter was part of an extra-illustrated volume, described in the catalog as a “Unique copy, with autograph letters of all the Presidents inserted…” Walter Benjamin, writing in The Collector, described the sale as a “blaze of glory, due to the total having reached nearly $200,000.” Benjamin attributed the sale’s incredible success to “a small bookseller on 42d street, who appeared at the sale with apparently unlimited cash, and was soon the master of the situation.” That “small bookseller,” was George D. Smith (d. 1920), who, up until that time, had been an obscure and unsuccessful book dealer who began his career in 1883 with Dodd & Mead. Smith would dominate the market for the next two decades, working as an agent for some of the wealthiest collectors in the country most notably Henry E. Huntington, for whom Smith purchased a portion of the Duke of Devonshire Library in 1914 for $1.5 million (American Art Association, Catalogue of the Valuable Literary and Art Property Gathered by the Late Augustin Daly, New York, 1900; The Collector, New York, May 1900, 1-2; Publisher’s Weekly, March 13, 1920, 801; Ibid, March 21, 1914, 1008; “Geo. D. Smith Dies in His Book Store, New York Times, March 5, 1928, 13).
The extra-illustrated volume of presidents from which this piece derives fetched $850, nearly four times above the going rate for presidential sets at the time. According to Walter Benjamin, Smith quickly resold the volume for $1,000. The collection did not surface again until it appeared in a minor auction in early 2016. (The Collector, New York, May 1900, 1-2)
Provenance: John Augustin Daly; American Art Association, New York, March 19, 1900, Lot 3122; George D. Smith, New York.