Lap Desk with General Artemas Ward Archive

Value (2014) | $2,000 Retail$4,000 Retail
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GUEST:
This belonged to my great-aunt up in New Hampshire, and it was given to me. I thought it was a very handsome lap desk. I loved the box. And then when we opened up the contents and found these wonderful letters and documents, it really was very fascinating. But I really don't know a great deal about it. They enjoyed going to different estate sales, and I imagine they picked it up over the years at some point. I really don't have any history on it. It was interesting to note that when we opened the box up, there was documentation indicating that it had belonged to Artemas Ward. And he was a general in the American Revolution.

APPRAISER:
Yes.

GUEST:
And a graduate of Harvard University.

APPRAISER:
Mm-hmm.

GUEST:
And there were some documents here that have his name on them.

APPRAISER:
Yes, yes. Well, Artemas Ward, not only was he a general in the Revolutionary War, he served his country also in peace. He went on to be a congressman from Massachusetts. And what's so interesting about this collection is you really see this material from the 18th and through the 19th century. And the first piece that you pointed out, the letter that... partial letter that we have here from Artemas Ward himself, in his handwriting, which has some sort of code on it...

GUEST:
Fascinating.

APPRAISER:
So this is an 18th century piece of paper that remains to be decoded, if you will. There's also letters that go through the centuries, and we move into the 19th century. Want to just read that paragraph for us?

GUEST:
Certainly. It's stating, "The bells are now tolling "for the death of John Adams. "If it had been left to him to say "on which day in the year he should die, "he would have selected the fourth of July. He died yesterday." This was signed July 5.

APPRAISER:
Yes, exactly. So we've got Artemas Ward writing this letter, but we know that it was not done by the father Artemas Ward who was the general, but rather his son, junior. Here is a contemporaneous account of the death of John Adams. They were all friends. I mean, Artemas Ward knew George Washington. I mean, so this is American history coming alive.

GUEST:
Beautiful.

APPRAISER:
And then to move forward, later in the 19th century you see a letter also here which states that the family is donating an autograph of George Washington for a fundraiser. Unfortunately, we don't have the...

GUEST:
...have the autograph, yes, unfortunately.

APPRAISER:
So let's get into this lap desk, which is English made. And if we flip it around, we can see how the lap desks were meant to be used. You would have written on this. This desk was not owned by Artemas Ward, Sr. It was owned by his son, because of the date of this. He, Artemas Ward, died in 1800, and this desk was probably made in 1820 to, say, 1840. In it is this wonderful cache of other artifacts from early New England history. We've got a French letter opener with beautifully enameled handle. There is a... shot, it's for hunting, in leather. Do you know what this is?

GUEST:
I don't. This I'm intrigued by.

APPRAISER:
Yeah, well, if you were writing in the 19th century, you would have had your pen... this is a porcupine pen. And when you dipped your pen into the ink here, it would have been a little drippy, so you would have taken it and wiped off... pen wipe is what it is.

GUEST:
Pen wipe.

APPRAISER:
So we think about the package as a whole, we look at a lap desk like this, it's probably in the $600 range. We're looking at some of the various documents. We have another $1,000 or so in the documents. And then with the other artifacts, if I were to find this group of things in an antique shop, I think I would expect to pay in the $2,000 to $4,000 range for the whole package.

GUEST:
Wonderful. I'm thrilled. Thank you. It's so nice to have an answer to this.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Skinner, Inc.
Boston, MA
Appraised value (2014)
$2,000 Retail$4,000 Retail
Event
New York, NY (August 09, 2014)
December 14, 2015: After airing, several viewers wrote to say General Artemas Ward’s notes were not in code but in shorthand. The system used is possibly Samuel Taylor stenography published in 1786 and tricky to decipher. Can you transcribe these documents?

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