Friday, October 21, 2011

JQA Letters in Dispute

The relics of dead presidents still have power over the living. To be more precise, pieces of paper once marked upon by a president can have monetary value, enough to inspire litigation some 200-plus years after their origin.

The Courthouse News Service, which specializes covering civil litigation, reports that Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries has asked a federal court to determine which of two men is the rightful owner of two letters written by John Quincy Adams.

The news service quotes the complaint: "In July 2011, Bradley B. Mugar contracted with Heritage to sell (among other things) two letters signed by John Quincy Adams on consignment. Heritage subsequently made two cash advances totaling $28,000 to Mugar, which were to be repaid from the auction sale proceeds. Before auction, Heritage learned of rival claims to the manuscripts and thus withdrew the two lots from the auction."

The rival claim was made by one Dr. David Light, of Palm Beach County, Fla., who asserts that the letters were stolen from him. For his part, Mugar, of Orange County, Calif., asserts that the letters are his. Heritage is holding onto the letters until the court rules on which of the two is the owner. The full story is here.

One letter is dated April 6, 1783, and the other is dated July 18, 1788, when JQA was quite young -- 16 years old and 21 years old, respectively. But the future president was already no stranger to copious amounts of writing, since he was secretary to Francis Dana on Dana's diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg in 1783, and was enrolled in Harvard College by 1788. Also, he began what would become a 50-volume diary when he was only 11.

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