University Archives


Oliver Wendell Holmes Archive Featuring 11 Signatures, from Over a Nearly 40-Year Period

An archive featuring a total of 11 signatures by American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894); the ten autographed letters and one calling card are variously signed as "Oliver Wendell Holmes" (2); "O.W. Holmes" (5); and "OW Holmes" (4) (total signatures 11). Many examples are on bifold stationery, one with a blind stamped "O.W.H." monogram at top, and the archive includes two original transmittal envelopes. Overall, the archive is in very good to near fine condition, with only scattered stains and foxing. Uneven toning affects a few pieces, and the edges of one piece have been reinforced. The September 12, 1885 ALS is ex-Stephen Wakeman (see more details below.) 8vo.

The lot is comprised of, in chronological order:

1. A 1p autograph letter signed as "O.W. Holmes" on the first page at lower right. Written in Boston on January 22, 1855 to an unknown recipient regarding an upcoming meeting.

2. A 1p autograph letter signed as "OW Holmes" on the first page at lower right. Written in Boston on December 12, 1855 to an unknown correspondent. In part: "You may expect me on Thursday evening Dec 20th. I will, if you please, read you a Poem entitled 'The Heart's own Secret'…"

Could this have been the working title of "Each Heart Has Its Own Secret," a poem read aloud by Holmes at a literary event in January 1856? The poem, contemporaries reported, was the "grand feature of the evening…it…abounded in many sly hits and jocose allusions, and…we are confident that it will be eagerly sought for and read with intense pleasure…" ("Mercantile Library Reporter")

3. Fulfilling an autograph request from Boston on December 7, 1858, Holmes signed as "Oliver Wendell Holmes" at lower right.

4. A 1p autograph letter signed as "OW Holmes" on the first page at lower right. Written at 164 Charles Street, Boston on July 10, 1866 and addressed to Admiral Charles Henry Davis (1807-1877), a fellow attendee of Harvard University, regarding an alumni event. Holmes graduated in 1829.

5. In this 3pp autograph letter signed addressed to Governor of Massachusetts Nathaniel P. Banks (1816-1894), Holmes recommended his friend Charles B. Goodwin to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. 21 Charles Street, Boston, September 4, 1860, on blind stamped "O.W.H." letterhead. Signed as "O.W. Holmes" on the third page at upper right.

6. A 1p autograph letter signed as "O.W. Holmes" at lower right. Written at 164 Charles Street, Boston on October 24, 1870. Holmes declines contributing to an unknown newspaper, citing a busy schedule.

7. Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, September 12, 1885. Holmes writes fellow American poet James R. Lowell (1819-1891), enclosing an autograph (no longer present.) A 2pp autograph letter signed as "O.W. Holmes on the second page at lower right. Ex-Stephen Wakeman Collection, Lot 571 in his 1924 auction.

8. 1p autograph letter signed as "O.W. Holmes" at lower right, including the original transmittal envelope. Holmes thanks his correspondent, Scottish poet A.J. Symington, for having sent him some poems (no longer present.) Written in Oxford, Massachusetts on July 1, 1886.

9. Writing from 296 Beacon Street, Boston on December 4, 1888, Holmes asks an employee of the Cunard Office about a shipment of his "china plates…at the wharf at East Boston." 1p autograph letter signed as "OW Holmes" on the first page at lower right.

10. A card signed and dated as "Oliver Wendell Holmes / August 29th 1892" postmarked from Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. Includes the original transmittal envelope.

11. An undated 2pp autograph letter signed as "OW Holmes" on the second page at center. Holmes regretfully writes that he cannot attend a scheduled appearance in Rochester, New York.

Though Holmes, Sr. is best known as a poet, novelist, and essayist, he was also a doctor, medical reformer, trained lawyer, and inventor of the stereoscope. His "Breakfast-Table" series, a collection of essays set at a New England boarding house and published in book form in 1858, especially charmed his readers.

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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