The Collections of Floyd E Risvold


2015-06-26 11:50:20


The Collections of Floyd E Risvold

The historian, philatelist and collector of Americana

Floyd E Risvold's passion for history, especially that of Western Expansion in the United States, was sparked at a young age by time spent exploring with the National Coast and Geodetic Survey in the West, Southwest and Alaska between 1932 and 1946.

Risvold developed a highly successful baby clothing business, and as soon as his finances would stand for it, he began collecting with enormous enthusiasm.

Floyd was primarily a philatelist, but quite an unusual one. Whilst many stamp collectors enjoy the knowledge of history which they gain from collecting, Risvold wished to understand American history, and simply used letters and covers alike as his main tool in doing this.

In his attempts to cover all of US, Risvold started with letter and covers from colonial times, long before the creation of adhesive stamps.

The earliest of these, a letter from Viriginia to Whitehaven, England, which dated from 1755 and sold for $19,000 at the recent auction (over an estimate of $4,000-5,000), was a piece of military mail from soldier telling of a loss to a French and Indian ambush.

The author wished his Commander had followed the advice of a certain George Washington and learnt from the Indian tactics.

Another letter written 20 years later in response to a sympathetic message from England, from the man who would succeed Washington as President, John Adams, bemoans the presence of 'Toris' causing the war but predicts correctly that Britain cannot manage a twenty year war.

John Adams's 1774 letterJohn Adams 1774 letter predicting there would not be a long Revolutionary War

Risvold collected by focussing on particular areas and researching them thoroughly, before setting out to find the very best items which defined the events. Whilst not his intention, this method acted as a sound form of investment as these items were never going to lose value.

The 1,300 lot strong collection included probably the greatest collection relating to the American Fur Trade ever assembled.

Notable amongst these was a letter from Jedediah Strong Smith, (possibly referenced by the Simpsons character Jebediah Springfield) who was the first white man to: reach California by the overland route, climb the High Sierras, cross Nevada, and walk the length of Utah.

It was the first letter of his to appear on the market in over 25 years, and fetched $57,000.

Other substantial sections to the collection included the Gold Rush, early California, Utah and Mormonism and the American Civil War.

The latter was probably the closest to Risvold's heart. In 1976 he won an award for his book A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and of the Conspiracy of 1865, whilst the former two provided some of the most interesting covers: the Nugget Express and Snowshoe Express(es), which easily beat their estimates.

Nugget Express coverNugget Express cover

The Mormon material in particular brought bidders with deep pockets, with a letter by Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum bringing $72,000 - ten times its estimate. In all the section fetched $650,000.

So substantial was the collection, that Spink Shreves took much of it on a tour of various countries, notably with a large exhibition in London before selling it over three days. The total sale brought $8.2m.

Risvold's collection, though inadvertently a great investment, was primarily a joy which sustained him through the five decades he was putting it together before his death last year, aged 97.

Images: Spink Shreves

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