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Lot 209

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Gen. McAuliffe Tells the Germans "Nuts!": Earliest Known Statement About its Origins, Along with Bonus Signed Belgian Postage Stamp, Handsomely Displayed!

A typed letter signed by four-star American General Anthony C. McAuliffe (1898-1975) as "A.C. McAuliffe." at center, and a vintage Belgian postage stamp also signed by him as "A.C. McAuliffe. / Nuts." The letter is displayed to the left of the signed stamp, as well as a high-quality photo reproduction of a photo depicting McAuliffe (right) conversing with General George S. Patton (1885-1945) (left) at Bastogne, Belgium on December 28, 1944. The letter, stamp, and image are beautifully displayed in a cream mat edged with gilt filet, overall size: 19.75" x 15.125" x .75." Accompanied by the original transmittal envelope, not matted. The envelope has a pre-printed "Department of the Army" return address and is hand-inscribed by the recipient "General MacAuliffe's [sic] explanation of nuts" verso. Lightly toned, else near fine. The items are from the Collection of James A. Bowman, a longtime autograph and stamp collector.

The 1p typed letter on "Department of the Army / Office of the Chief, Chemical Corps / Washington 25, D.C." letterhead is dated December 28, 1949, exactly five years to the day after the iconic photo of McAuliffe and Patton was taken in Bastogne. The letter shows expected light paper folds and isolated stains near the right edge, else near fine. Actual size of letter: 8" x 10.5."

In response to a collector's inquiry regarding "my actual reply to the German surrender demand at Bastogne on December 22nd, 1944", McAuliffe wrote: "…the answer was 'Nuts.' Initially I read the surrender demand and made the remark verbally. Later, when the Germans required a written reply, it was delivered to them written in formal fashion…" Apparently, the difficulties of translating the American slang word "Nuts" into a German equivalent caused no end of amusement to the bellicose Americans.

The letter is accompanied by a dark green "Bastogne in Memoriam" stamp signed by McAuliffe. The stamp, corresponding to 17.50 / 62.50 Belgian franc denomination, depicts a charging soldier surrounded by tanks, planes, and parachutes; a fierce eagle head, symbol of the 101st Airborne Division, is located at lower right. The signature extends past the edges of the stamp unto an off-white stock mount, actual size 3.375" x 2.5." There is a horizontal line in pencil (to ensure a straight signature) running across the stamp. Else near fine. The actual stamp measures 1.875" x 1.125."

Overall measurment: 19.75" x 15.125" x .75"

On December 16, 1944, General Anthony C. McAuliffe, commander of the American 101st Airborne Division, responded to the besieging Germans' invitation to surrender with a one-word answer: "Nuts!" McAuliffe's "Go to hell!" attitude in the face of adversity ensured the general's celebrity, and it later became his catchphrase.

The city of Bastogne, Belgium, located near the country's southeastern border with Luxembourg, was targeted by Nazis in December 1944; Axis forces hoped to split up Allied forces and paralyze the Belgian port city of Antwerp. During the subsequent six-week-long campaign, called the Battle of the Bulge, General McAuliffe and three American airborne and armored divisions became holed up in the city. McAuliffe's forces resisted the Nazis until the city was liberated by the Allies (for a second time) on December 26, 1944. McAuliffe's steadfastness and bravery during the campaign earned him several military awards, a promotion, and an unforgettable place in American popular culture.

Prior to this 1949 letter coming up for auction, the earliest known letter by General McAuliffe recollecting the origins of "Nuts!" was dated almost twenty years later, on October 10, 1969, and arguably of lesser value because it dated thirteen years after McAuliffe retired from the armed forces. The October 10, 1969 letter sold at Christie's in May 1994 for nearly $15,000. This earlier letter is certainly a more remarkable find!

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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September 30, 2020 10:30 AM EDT

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