"Before There Was Madoff, There Was Musica."

What do Musica, Helen Keller and P.T. Barnum Have in Common?

They were all from Connecticut.

Although Connecticut ranks 48th out of 50 for the smallest state in America, it can take full credit for many huge, early, and critical accomplishments that still direct our business, government, healthcare, and educational systems today.  It is most interesting to note that Connecticut has bragging rights to two important "first in the nation" achievements certain to resonate universally with antique book and ephemera collectors, regardless of their location! 

Did you know that Connecticut is the birthplace of the free public library as we know it here in America?  The state's Scoville Memorial Library, located in Salisbury, has its origins in 1771 and holds the distinction of being our nation's earliest.   It is also home to the oldest continuously published newspaper in the US.  The Hartford Courant, the largest daily in Connecticut, was established in 1764.  As such, it seems perfectly fitting that Greenwich, Connecticut is the host location for this year's Ephemera Fair, the nation's largest celebration of all things vintage paper, on March 19th and 20th, 2016.

The Ephemera Fair is open to the public and includes a remarkable sales room featuring items from every corner of the world, professionally curated exhibits, and the opportunity to meet some of the nation's finest dealers as well as fellow collectors.  In keeping with today's blog theme of "all things Connecticut," one dealer, John Reznikoff - the founder and President of University Archives - will be bringing an extraordinary archive of Nutmeg State rarities to the show.  Here are three can't miss selections from this grouping. 

Seeing is believing with this first Connecticut highlight from University Archives.  Here we have five pages of Braille owned by Helen Keller.  Keller was the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree, and went on to become an internationally renown and prolific author, activist, and lecturer.  She lived in Easton, Connecticut, from 1939 until her death in 1968.  According to John, these are most probably the retained copies of pages typed by Helen Keller on a Braille typewriter to be typed on paper by her secretary.  This material is cataloged as...

 "Five pages of Braille, each 9” x 11”. Three are tan cards. One is translated above the Braille: “Helen Keller / to / the American Foundation for / the Overseas Blind, Inc. / Assignment.” A second sheet, numbered “#4” in Braille, has three lines in Braille. A third sheet, numbered “#5” in Braille, has four lines in Braille, possibly the last page of a letter. A fourth sheet of tan paper, is folded in half and has Braille on both sides, 20-25 lines on each side." 

It's definitely a carnival atmosphere when it comes to act two from University Archives.  Here we have an autographed letter from P.T. Barnum, who was best known as a showman, promoter, and founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Barnum is truly a Nutmegger through and through. He was born and died in Connecticut,  served as Mayor of Bridgeport, and was a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from the Fairfield District.  According to John, this letter extolls the merits of his newly rebuilt "Hippodrome" -  the predecessor to the first Madison Square Garden - following its destruction by fire in December 1873.  This material is cataloged as...


"Fine content Autograph Letter Signed, "P. T. Barnum," 2 pages, 4.25" x 6.75" (visible) on his personal monogramed letterhead, Bridgeport, Connecticut, June 13, 1874 to "My dear Cuyler." Expected mailing folds, else very fine. Matted and framed with a portrait of Barnum at center. Not examined out of frame."

The letter reads as follows...

"I have just returned from Vermont and find your welcome letter. Hope I am not too late to do you good. My Hippodrome is well worth your family seeing. It is much more interesting at night than day on account of good light and more people being present, but just the same exhibitions are given day as evening. Please show enclosed [not present] to Mr [Samuel Henry] Hurd my son in law & he will fix you out all right[.] Kindest Regards to your family. I wish you could call on me and see the most pleasant location & the nicest residence on the footstool[?]."

If the third Connecticut themed grouping from University Archives sounds like it was ripped from the headlines from a national tabloid news program - that's because it was!  Here we have an archive of letters, manuscripts, and other ephemera from swindler and bootlegger Philip Musica, also known as F. Donald Coster, the man behind the infamous McKesson & Robbins Scandal of 1938.  The collection even includes his blood-stained suicide note, written to his wife as police were closing in on his home in Fairfield!  According to John, Coster today could be compared to convicted pyramid schemer Bernie Madoff.  He stole $3 million (about $50 million in today's dollars) from the drug company through forgeries, duplicate books, and massive fraud.  This material is cataloged as...

"Archive of notorious swindler Philip Musica, otherwise known as F. Donald Coster, the man behind the infamous McKesson & Robbins Scandal of 1938. One autograph letter signed "Daddy", his suicide letter to his wife with his blood on it; one two-page manuscript outlining details of finances; his Social Security card in the name of Frank Donald Coster; a copy of Coster's will, dated March 11, 1937, signed in type; a copy of December 1960 edition of "Climax" magazine, and an article from the "Advocate and Greenwich Time" dated September 13, 2009, entitled "Before There Was Madoff, There Was Musica." 

For more information on Coster and the history of the McKesson & Robbins scandal, please click here.

Come see these historical artifacts and meet John and over 70 world-class ephemera dealers at the upcoming Ephemera Fair on Saturday, March 19th and Sunday, March 20th in Greenwich, CT.  For more information on the event, including links for discount advance tickets please click here. 

The Ephemera Fair is brought to you by Impact Events Group, producer of the top book and ephemera fairs in the Northeast US.  Our professionally managed events have a long history of bringing together the finest buyers and sellers in the industry, and are held in major locations including Boston, New York City, Brooklyn, Concord, NH, and Lexington, MA. For more information and a complete calendar of our shows, please see www.bookandpaperfairs.com.