My favorite lot in the sale is a 1952 letter penned by Albert Einstein imploring the judge of the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to spare their lives. In the trial, the Rosenbergs' convictions were almost entirely based on the testimony of Ethel's brother David Greenglass, another defendant in the case. Einstein very concisely points out that Greenglass himself admitted a greater role in the spying and that the case against the Rosenbergs was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Einstein, joining many celebrities, authors and artists of the day appealed to Judge Irving Kaufman's sense of compassion, but the couple were executed in Sing Sing's electric chair the following June. Greenglass would appear on 60 Minutes in 2001, admitting he lied under oath in order to get lesser sentences for himself and his wife. The story underscores the sense of reckless hysteria gripping the U.S. during the height of the McCarthy era, and in fact Senator McCarthy's right hand man Roy Cohn was one of the prosecutors in the case, claiming later in life to have coerced Judge Kaufman to carry out the death sentence!
Providing a rare look into the private world of Ernest Hemingway is a fascinating letter the author wrote in 1947 to his colleague Mark Hellinger, who at the time was terminally ill. Hemingway attempts to cheer Hellinger up by launching into a profanity-laden tirade reference everything from drinking, gambling and visiting whorehouses to gangsters, drugs, "midgets" and more, referencing John Steinbeck and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle along the way. His frank discussion with Hellinger who would die just months later shows just how comfortable Hemingway was in black comedy: "I can see just how you'd look as a corpse. Wonderful. In a black shirt. Right away I start the Mark Hellinger Syphillis Fund."
Another amazing letter being offered was written in 1857 by legendary fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen, a lengthy account detailing his visit to England where he was invited to stay at the home of Charles Dickens and overstayed a two-week invitation by four weeks! Besides the clashing personalities of these two historic writers, the awkwardness was further exacerbated by the fact that Dickens was in the middle of a tumultuous divorce and the visit is believed to have permanently strained their relationship thereafter, with Dickens taking revenge by basing the David Copperfield character Uriah Heep on Andersen!
For fans of the politically charged, there are a few items signed by Bill Clinton that might raise eyebrows, notably an 8 x10 color photo of Clinton with his alleged paramour Kathleen Willey, signed and inscribed to her by the former President. Yet another letter written on White House letterhead as President in 1993 to Ms. Willey reads: "Dear Kathleen Thanks for your note about Vince and for your friendship. Best, Bill", referencing the suicide of Vince Foster discovered just nine days earlier. Slightly less scandalous would be a letter written by President Clinton to Congressman William H. Natcher, thanking him for his vote in passage of the bill raising taxes on the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers in 1993. In part: "The winners tonight are middle class Americans and the people who stood by them. We promised deep reductions in federal spending, a return to tax fairness, investments in the skills and productivity of our people, and incentives to create jobs and expand businesses...With nearly $500 billion in deficit reduction, this plan will help revive America's economy...Perhaps most important, we sent a strong signal to the people of the United States that Washington can act...in the national interest..."
Other items worth mention include a rare letter in the hand of Adolph Hitler to a woman who shares his birthday; an archive of letters with historic civil rights content from President Lyndon B. Johnson to NAACP Director Clarence Mitchell, a Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. autograph on a Playboy Club card (!), a J.R.R. Tolkien letter to a fellow fantasy writer bashing a third, original artwork drawn by Jimi Hendrix, and much more.
These are by far not the most valuable items in the sale, but I just wanted to share these highlights because there is only a 2-3 week window in which these items are publicly available to see, after which they disappear into private hands or institutions.