Single Buyer Wins 1776 Declaration, as Well as Documents Linked to East Hampton

After placing the winning bids in an auction of a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence and a trove of historical documents linked to East Hampton, Holly M. Kinyon talked with Kip Blanchard of Blanchard’s Auction House in Potsdam, N.Y. Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily Times

A single buyer stunned a crowd of about 125 people at an auction house in Potsdam, N.Y., on Saturday, winning both a rare 1776 printing of the Declaration of Independence and a related cache of printed documents, wills, and family papers linked to East Hampton.

Holly M. Kinyon, who had flown east from her home in California to attend the sale, bid $1.5 million for the Declaration of Independence and $290,000 for the other materials. With tax and a buyer’s premium, her total came to about $2.2 million.

Initial estimates for the Declaration were $500,000 to $1 million and between $25,000 and $50,000 for the papers. Kip Blanchard of Blanchard’s Auction Service in Potsdam handled the sale.

Ms. Kinyon told the Watertown Daily Times that she was a descendent of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon, and had been deeply moved as a young woman when she saw a copy of the original declaration in Washington, D.C. 

Both the 1776 John Holt printing of the Declaration of Independence and the other material had been handed down in the Mulford family for generations. The Declaration originally belonged to Col. David Mulford, who led a Revolutionary War regiment. Mulford died in 1778 of smallpox. Eventually, it and the rest of the collection passed into the hands of a St. Lawrence County, N.Y., resident, who decided to sell them. She has chosen to remain anonymous.

The other auction lot contained items dating from 1667 to the time of the War of 1812 and included prosaic household accounts, and wills, but also broadsides issued by the British calling for the surrender of colonial rebels. Among the intriguing documents was an accounting of expenses for the search for an escaped slave who had been owned by a member of the Gardiner family of Gardiner’s Island. Another item was a rare copy of a book on pregnancy by Cotton Mather. Another was a $7 paper note, Continental currency issued by Philadelphia in 1775.

Bidding for the Declaration started at $1 million and rose quickly, a dealer from Connecticut and a phone bidder initially battling it out. Then Ms. Kin­yon jumped in. “There was a sense of, ‘Who is this woman?’ ” Mr. Blanchard said. Her bid of $1.5 million was unanswered.

The lot with the other historical materials opened at $50,000, with several bidders on the phone competing with ones in the hall. The price jumped first in $10,000 increments, then by $5,000. Mr. Blanchard said that Ms. Kinyon did not step in at first, but as the bidding seemed to be frozen at $80,000 she raised her hand. From there, it leapt upward, finally pitting Ms. Kinyon against an unidentified phone bidder. 

Dennis Fabiszak, the East Hampton Library director, had been among the phone bidders for the second lot of Mulford, Buell, and Gardiner papers. He said in an interview that he was able to keep up at first but that the price quickly jumped beyond what the library was prepared to spend. “It was just amazing,” he said.

“We try as hard as we can to preserve the history of the town,” he said. It is a rare occurrence to have such a large collection become available, and a number of people from the East Hampton community had made donations to help the library purchase them, Mr. Fabiszak said. 

He said that he hoped to speak to Ms. Kinyon about the prospect of the library displaying some of the Mulford papers or obtaining high-resolution digital copies to make them available to researchers.

Mr. Fabiszak said that in recent days a member of the Hedges family who lived in Patchogue noticed the press coverage about the Declaration sale and had gotten in touch with the library about materials it might be interested in buying.

“People don’t think to look in their attics,” he said. “We hope they do, and we are hoping to preserve them in the Long Island Collection.”

The 1776 Holt printing of the Declaration of Independence, one of five known to have survived, was authenticated by Keith Arbour, a Cambridge, Mass., historian. Blanchard's Auction Service