"For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."
--George Washington to the Jewish Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. August 18, 1790.
Washington’s address to Newport’s Touro Synagogue in 1790 couldn’t have been clearer: that the newly founded United States was to forever be tolerant of all religions. Though certainly tested in the intervening years, that belief remains at the core of the country’s credo. Now, as something of a reminder of America’s values, Seth Kaller of Seth Kaller Inc. and University Archives is hosting a special exhibit showcasing historical documents that molded America—like Washington’s synagogue speech—at the Ephemera 39 Fair from March 14th through the 17th at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Greenwich, CT.
“The Founding Fathers were able to transcend their personal flaws and political conflicts to lay the groundwork for our great nation,” said Kaller. “By looking back, we often find the way forward.” Among the items on display, but not for sale, include a rare New York Journal imprint of the Declaration of Independence printed July 11, 1776, and a September 15, 1790 printing in the Gazette of the United States of George Washington’s speech at Touro Synagogue.
Other items on display that are for available for purchase include a rare first day printing of the U.S. Constitution, priced at $325,000. If that’s too rich for your blood, an example from 1805 is for sale at the relatively bargain-basement price of $295.
Also part of the documents exhibit are over 1,000 items from from Kaller’s Alexander Hamilton collection. “We aimed to bring together original documents that were part of the struggle to form a new nation, warts and all,” Kaller explained. Manuscripts, letters, and other correspondence between Hamilton and contemporaries such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, illuminate the challenges America’s founders faced and how they dealt with them. This collection en bloc is valued at $2.5 million.
According to Kaller, “It is comforting to look back, through the quills and presses of Hamilton and his contemporaries, to see upstart America overcoming challenges as great as any we face today.”
And yet, “the declaration that ‘all men are created equal’ was never actually self-evident, and the question of who constituted ‘We the people’ has never truly been settled law,” said Kaller. This exhibition takes on fresh meaning in these days of political turmoil and illustrates how early politicians navigated seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the formation of the fledgling democracy. “It is equally clear that America never could have become a great nation without having overcome real national emergencies. My aim here is not to be partisan or to impose my own opinions, but to show real documents of freedom that are relevant to current events. I hope that this adds just a little to the public discourse.”
From a purely technical standpoint, bringing a grand total of $8 million in historical documents to an ephemera show is no easy feat. “Frankly, this is also an experiment, but I've always been more passionate about collecting and sharing than I have been about being a dealer,” enthused Kaller. “It turns out that 100 feet of wall space won't be nearly enough for all the treasures we're packing in. I want to use this opportunity to publicize the idea that great history collections can still be built, and can be used to inspire.”
Not into politics? Not to worry, you’ll find plenty of other items, from broadsides to stamps, at the ephemera fair—83 exhibitors from 19 states and Canada will be showcasing over 10,000 items ranging in price from $10 to over one million. There’s something for everyone from the beginning collector to the musem curator, come see for yourself!