Freelance Historian
The World of Historical Manuscripts and Ephemera

Archive for the ‘Shop Talk’ Category

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and John Wilkes Booth

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on January 4th, 2012

Most people have heard of the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” where it is proposed that any actor can be linked to the prolific entertainer in six steps or less. Readers of popular online link site Reddit decided to put this to the test, and were even able to connect Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth to Bacon!

  1. Booth appeared in an 1863 production of MacBeth with Louisa Lane Drew.
  2. Louisa Lane Drew appeared in an 1896 production of The Rivals with her grandson Lionel Barrymore.
  3. Lionel Barrymore appeared in It’s A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stuart in 1948.
  4. Jimmy Stuart was in 1977’s Airport ’77 with Jack Lemmon.
  5. Jack Lemmon was in JFK in 1991 with Kevin Bacon.

Another reader shaves Booths’ Bacon Number to 4 by tracing Lionel Barrymore to Kenneth Tobey in Right Cross (1950) then Tobey to Kevin Bacon in Hero At Large (1980.)

In an interesting aside, Kevin Bacon had been mentioned as producing a Showtime series on the Booth brothers in 2008, but the show seems to have dropped into limbo.


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Historic LOLs

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on August 15th, 2011

One of the humor sites I read is “Historic LOLs,” which add humorous captions to old photos or vintage illustrations. I love the expression on this man’s face. You wonder what the original circumstances were of this photo. 🙂


My Sunday Afternoon- Transcribing an 1845 Letter

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on January 2nd, 2011

Here’s an example of how I have spent my New Year’s weekend: transcribing documents such as this 1845 letter discussing outgoing President Tyler and incoming President Polk,  written to Adam J Glossbrenner, who’d just been hired by the office of the Clerk of the US House of Representatives. This is the first of four pages:

I take items such as this on commission for clients, finding the “hidden value” that others miss. For example, the recent letter to the Buchanan White House that was written by the US Treasury agent who was given the famous orders to “shoot on the spot” any man that tore down the US colors in New Orleans. (Those orders referred to the US Revenue cutter McClelland, which had been taken over for the South by its captain, not the US Treasury building in New Orleans, as some sources claim.)

For those interested in stampless covers as I am, I’ll post the address sheet of this letter later.

Why Good Research Matters

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on October 30th, 2009

Here’s an example of why the quality of your research (and researchers) makes a difference.

While browsing a recent auction at a noted auction house, I came across the following:

Timothy Pickering Autograph Letter Signed T. Pickering” as secretary of state. One page, 9.75″ x 8″, January 10, 1799, n.p. The letter, addressed to Dwight Foster, asks, “Have you got the Bridget? – Please let me know by the Beaver.” Both the Beaver and the Bridget were undoubtedly ships. At the time Pickering was involved in procuring ships for the United States Revenue Cutter Service to limit smuggling. Folds and wax seal marks, else fine. Estimate: $400 – $600.

Screen shot of listing at Heritage

Screen shot of listing

Now, aside from the fact that the Secretary of State wouldn’t likely be out buying ships for the Treasury Department (the US Revenue Cutter Service was started by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in 1790,) it took ninety seconds of research to determine that the recipient of this letter is Congressman Dwight Foster of Massachusetts, Chairman of the House Committee on Claims, thereby illuminating the correct reading of the letter:

“Have you got the Budget? Please let me know by the Bearer (of this letter)”

Scan of letter from heritage website

Scan of letter from auction website (click for full size)

Pickering was known for his strong pro-British sympathies, and was negotiating with Britain regarding the claims of Loyalists who lost property when run out of the Colonies during the Revolutionary War.  He is writing Foster, who as Chairman on the Committee on Claims, has finalized the budget for settling this year’s claims.  Coincidentally, the closest Pickering came to involvement with the US Revenue Cutter Service was having a cutter named for him since he was Secretary of State at the time it was built.

Unsurprisingly, the letter did not sell.

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It wasn’t that long ago…

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on January 16th, 2009

I was doing some research tonight, and looked up the biography of Marine Corps General Henry Larsen. He arrived in France in the first troop convoy from America and took part in every USMC combat in France in WWI, led the first combat troops to leave the continental US to fight in WWII, and supervised making Guam a huge wartime military base.

Then I found this in an article about Frederick Branch, the first-ever black Marine Corps officer:

(Montford Point was the camp 14 miles from Camp Lejune where all black recruits were segregated for basic training.)

Unfortunately, Branch was stationed at Montford Point when Major General Henry L. Larsen, a veteran of the Pacific theater, assumed command of Camp Lejeune. Later that summer of 1943, Larsen spoke to a large group of Montford Point Marines—men who fell directly under his command. Prior to the address, energy and enthusiasm filled the air. No general had ever spoken to the Montford men. They assumed Larsen would bring both news of the Pacific fight and a promise from the Marine Corps that black units would soon engage the enemy in combat alongside their white Marine brethren.

Larsen began. “I have been fighting day and night in the jungles. But I didn’t realize a war was on until I got back to the United States.” He paused. His warriors smiled; the general understood.

Or so they thought. “When I returned from overseas and found you people here at Montford Point wearing our Eagle, Globe and Anchor, I realized a grave state of war existed right here in America.” Insulted and furious, the recruits shouted Larsen down. The general left under armed escort without having an opportunity to finish his diatribe, according to the Inquirer .

Days before we see the first black man sworn in as President of the United States, the shock that someone in such a position of leadership as General Larsen could not only think, but say such a thing to men who were eager to lay their lives on the line for this country depresses me.

I hope that we truly have moved as far as it sometimes seems, in the intervening 66 years.

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Exploring Alternatives

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on December 29th, 2008

We’ve heard loud and clear from our high-end collectors- you do not like being forced to use PayPal, even when using a credit or debit card.  I am looking into alternatives that will move us away from eBay in stages, the main problem being the exposure needed to generate traffic for auctions. We may start off with smaller, fixed-price items such as postal covers, until we can find an ecommerce solution in an auction setting that allows us to take credit cards and money orders.

If anyone has a suggestion, post in the comments!

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Alexander Autograph’s Fall Auction

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on October 20th, 2008

The Fall 2008 auction at Alexander Autographs is just around the corner!

Alexander Autographs will be holding its Fall auction on November 6-7, 2008. We are very proud to present this auction, one of our largest ever, which will include over 1,800 fine lots of important historical autographs in all fields of collecting.


  • Col. Paul Tibbets’ Flight Suit (Lot 963)
  • Hitlers’ Order Firing Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Lot 978A)
  • A historic collection of material assembled by journalist William Woodfield concerning the uniquely notorious Jack Ruby. (Lots 731A, B, C, D & E)

We look forward to kicking off the bidding on November 6th.

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Things I learned this week

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on September 25th, 2008

One of the neatest parts about this job is learning new things all the time.

While researching lots this week, I learned;

  • A “matross” is the old term for artillery crewman- he helped load, fire and sponge out the cannon.
  • “Diorama” was originally traveling theater presentation using painted linen panels and lighting to produce what was for then a stunning three-dimensional effect.
  • and I learned about the “Freedman’s Bank” established to help ex-slaves learn how to save and manage their money after the Civil War. It unfortunately collapsed, as so many banks did back then, from chicanery and fraud.

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Illustrated Belasco Theater Envelope 1907

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on September 5th, 2008

One of the joys of my job is finding the history behind the items I am sent. In this case, we’re looking at an illustrated postal envelope sent to famed conductor Charles Feleky in 1907, from the Belasco Theater. Seems straightforward at first, doesn’t it? However, this would have been incorrectly described by someone that didn’t take a moment to check it out.

In this case, the letter is postmarked before the Belasco Theater opened. Just a little research turns up the fact that there was a previous theater named the Belasco, which has its own interesting history.

The theater that this letter was sent from was originally designed for Oscar Hammerstein, Sr., and opened in 1900 in Times Square as the Republic Theater. David Belasco leased the theater in 1902, naming it after himself, and producing plays starring Mary Pickford, among others.  In 1910, he relocated operations to the Stuyvesant Theater, again renaming the venue after himself. This is the current Belasco Theater.

The original theater went back to being called the Republic Theater after Belasco left, eventually becoming a Minsky’s Burlesque Theater in 1931, then in 1942 was remodeled into a cinema named the Victory. After decades of neglect, the theater was chosen as the first revitalization project in the efforts to reclaim Times Square, restored to its former glory, and reopened as the New Victory  Theater.

The New Victory is a community-oriented theater, hosting childrens’ shows as well as recitals and concerts.

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Crazy About History

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on August 31st, 2008

It’s funny sometimes, how a passion can lead to a vocation. All my life, I’ve been crazy about history. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in a small town where nothing really ever happened, or because my mother taught me to read when I was a toddler to keep me out of her hair. 😉  In any case, history has always fascinated me.

I have been lucky enough to be able to turn this lifelong interest and contacts made throughout my life into a career where people send me neat old things in the mail, and I get to research them! This blog is a place for me to share interesting things that cross my desk with friends, and whoever else wanders across this site.

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