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Sale 72: Gems of Philately

Table of Contents

United States Postal History

Lot 2    

(George Washington) Last Letter Dictated by George Washington in the Hand of His Secretary, Tobias Lear, Autograph Letter, one page with George Washington's watermark, unsigned to John Halsey datelined "Mount Vernon, Decr. 13th: 1799" ordering Madeira win for Washington one day before his death, in the letter Lear tells Halsey, a New York merchant, that a Mr. J.M. Pintard had offered to sell George Washington "one or two pipes" of Madeira wine "at three dollars per gallon." The wine was in the custody of Halsey in New York and Lear had written Pintard to take him up on the offer. But, worrying that Pintard may have already left the country, he asks the merchant "to send to the General one pipe of the wine mentioned, upon the terms expressed…", in an unintentionally poignant postscript he adds: "You will be pleased to address your answer to His Excellancy General Washington.", the next day however Washington was dead, Very Fine.
Estimate    $15,000 - 20,000.

It was a stunningly fast moving tragedy. Washington seemed in good health on the morning of 13 December - certainly the fact that his secretary could make such casual plans about wine shows there was no dire sense of urgency, no deathbed vigil-taking place in the Washington household. The General made a horseback inspection of his plantation in wet and wintry weather and returned complaining of a cough and hoarseness. Thinking he was suffering from nothing worse than the cold Martha Washington had recently experienced, he took to his bed, but woke up at 2am with fever and severe shortness of breath. Martha called for Tobias Lear, who summoned Washington's physician, Dr. James Craik and the plantation overseer, George Rawlins, an "expert" in bleeding. Lear would be a witness and chronicler of the tragedy that unfolded over the next 20 hours, as Craik and a sequence of other physicians administered a disastrous and painful regimens of bleeding and blisters. They extracted an astonishing 80 ounces of blood - 40% of his body's supply - in a 12-hour period. At about 10pm, with Lear and Martha at his side, George Washington died. Undoubtedly, this letter was the last dictated by Washington prior to his death.

Realized: $13,000

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