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In 1959 I published my first catalog, consisting entirely of American presidents. During the period from 1960 to 1965, my catalogs began to offer historical letters and documents in many areas of American history, beginning with the Revolution and gradually moving forward in time as I expanded my knowledge of the historical facts, the lives of the participants, and, most important, the autograph material—its rarity, the kinds of letters people wrote, the types of documents they signed, whether anyone ever signed for them, and the dozens of other details that are necessary for the accurate evaluation of autograph material. During the last five years of that decade, I continued to include more areas—first American literature, then English history and literature, and finally Continental history and literature.
It was also during this time that I began to appraise archival collections, a part of the business that was to become very important in the late 1970s. In the following twenty years, I evaluated virtually all of the major collections donated to American institutions, including the literary archives of Random House, the archives of the Northern Pacific Railroad (ten million pieces), the Franklin D. Roosevelt family papers, the papers of Samuel L. Clemens, Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Admiral Byrd, the archives of RKO and Paramount Pictures, and literally thousands of others. Appraisal clients included every major library and museum in the country, including the Library of Congress and the National Archives as well as the National Archives of Canada, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service. In the 1970s, two appraisals set the legal standards for determining the fair market value of historical letters and documents: in the first, the Otto Kerner case, I represented the Internal Revenue Service; and in the second, I represented the taxpayer, the Northern Pacific Railroad. In both cases my evaluation was upheld with no compromise. These are the only cases to date in which the Tax Court has not compromised between two conflicting values. I write about appraisals in the past tense because in recent years my time has been devoted to working with collectors, leaving little time for institutional appraisals. However, in the 1990s, I evaluated Richard Nixon's White House papers comprising forty-four million pieces and forty-five hundred hours of tapes—a challenge worth getting involved in! This appraisal was done for the former President and the final agreed upon evaluation, settling his lawsuit over the taking of his White House papers, was within ten percent of my appraisal.
There was also a three-volume series on the American frontier (729 pages).
These were the most comprehensive catalogues ever published on these subjects. Unfortunately, none of them could be rivaled today; the material is simply not available.
If the 1970s was the “European Decade,” the 1980s seemed to be the decade of “going public.” In 1983, I was hired by Newsweek as their special consultant on the Hitler diaries. Many weeks were spent trying to determine how these outrageous forgeries had become such an international news story, and all of the publicity had a tremendous effect in making the world of historical letters and documents much better known to the general public.
Two years later, historical letters and documents were back on front pages of newspapers as Mark Hoffman, the Mormon forger, killed two people in an attempt to cover up his forgeries. This extremely complex case remained in the news for the next two years.
The first few years of the 1990s saw a continuation of efforts to introduce more people to the idea that historical letters and documents can be collected for relatively modest sums. In 1990, we were invited to exhibit at New York's Winter Antiques Show, the most prestigious antiques show in the United States. During the next two years, we began exhibiting at leading antique and art shows, including those in San Francisco, Palm Beach, Chicago, Dallas, Basel, and Europe's leading art and antiques show, Maastricht. This has given us the pleasure of meeting many new collectors who never knew of the availability of historical letters and documents.
In the fall of 1992, shortly after opening the gallery on Madison Avenue in New York City, we opened a second gallery on North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I had been very careful in selecting an affordable street parallel to Rodeo Drive, but ten years later when our lease was up we were flanked by national stores and the new rent was unaffordable.
What about the future? The trend in the past few years has certainly been one of new people discovering the field and being astonished at what they can acquire relatively inexpensively compared to other collecting fields. Several new dealers have put great emphasis on investment. I have never offered autograph material as an investment—although it has clearly been a very good one—because the material is so difficult to find that I do not wish to simply sell it someone for his or her "portfolio." My pleasure is in building collections and friendships with collectors, not in developing their investment portfolios.
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