A piece of colonial misinformation, this 1754 Letter from Quebeck… made $8000 (£6085) at Bonhams New York.

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Illustrated above is the earliest of them, a rare item of political propaganda dated 1754 and titled A Letter from Quebeck, in Canada, to M. L’Maine, a French Officer.

With unconfirmed reports getting back to Massachusetts of warlike French activities, this pamphlet relating to what would become the French & Indian War (the North American counterpart of what in Europe was called the Seven Years’ War) prints what purports to be a letter from a French officer.

It tells of French forces and their Indian counterparts amassing in numbers and of plans “…which give us a glorious Prospect of adding a Kingdom to our dread Sovereign’s Dominion”.

Utilising pro-Catholic overtones and offering supposed intelligence of British vulnerabilities, the account was most certainly spurious, say Bonhams, and was printed in order to stoke fears in the colonies and shift opinion towards war.

It has since been attributed by some to William Smith, a pamphleteer and provost of the College of Philadelphia.

Running to eight pages, but uncut and unopened and bearing the contemporary ink subscription of one Nathaniel Sparhawk, it sold at $8000 (£6085).

European wrongs

Sold at $4800 (£3650) was a single leaf broadside printing of a famous speech that a Seneca Indian orator delivered in 1805 on the subject of wrongs foisted on the Iroquois by missionaries and other Europeans who were attempting to convert them to Christianity.

The speaker’s tribal name was Sagu-Ya-What-Hath, meaning ‘Keeper-Awake’, and this is noted at the head of the broadside, but as the printers also point out, he is “a Chief commonly called by the white people, Red Jacket”.

Uncut in the original blue printed wrappers, a rare copy of what was catalogued as John Greenleaf Whittier’s first extended work in verse, Moll Pitcher, was billed as one of only two copies seen at auction in over 40 years.

In 1990 the Bradley Martin copy, again in printed wrappers but not so well preserved, made $4750 at Sotheby’s New York.

The Bonhams copy was one that in 1989 had been offered in one of the Christie’s New York sales that dispersed the equally vast Estelle Doheny library.

In the 2018 Bonhams sale it made $7500 (£5725), but that was the very same dollar price it made almost 40 years ago – so while it remains rare, it has not proved a great investment.