Lot 176: ALS, one page, 4.75 x 7.75, Volta Laboratory letterhead, August 2, 1881. Letter to Joseph Stanley Brown, private secretary to President James A. Garfield. In full: "Will you kindly allow the bearer of this note to enter the basement room for the purpose of removing my batteries." Mounted, double-matted, and framed with two images and a transcript to an overall size of 20.5 x 28.25. In fine condition, with a few stray ink marks and closely cropped trimmed edges (affecting part of the last letter of his signature).President James A. Garfield had been shot exactly a month before this letter, and at this time was still alive and being treated in hopes of recovery. Of assassin Charles Guiteau's two shots, one bullet grazed the president's arm and the other was lodged into his abdomen, where physicians were unable to locate it. Hoping to solve the problem, Alexander Graham Bell arrived at the White House with a crude battery-operated metal detector and tried to locate the bullet using his recently invented telephone to amplify the sound. On the evening of July 26, the apparatus was used and a faint, constant hum was heard all over the president's body. Returning to his Volta lab, Bell found the detector worked perfectly. Two days before writing this letter he tried again with the same result—today attributed to the metal coil springs in the mattress Garfield was lying on. One of the images with which this letter is framed depicts the experiment, showing the batteries on the left side behind the door and Bell on the right, listening with his telephone. Bell's original metal detector survived and is part of the Smithsonian Institution's collection. A fantastic letter linking one of the world's most renowned inventors and the failed attempt to save President Garfield.
RR Auction's Fine Autographs and Artifacts Auction 456
Wednesday, 15th July 2015
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