The Inspiration of Henry David Thoreau

The rewards of collecting Thoreau are obvious, but so is the challenge – his material is scarce. He died young, his letters are difficult to secure, and other documents he signed are virtually unobtainable.  But the fun is the same as the challenge, and seeking them out – and making the occasional discovery – is a thrill.

The most common of all manuscripts in the hand of Thoreau are pages of his proofs that he provided to the publisher, which were then bound into editions of his works sold to the public. These are not signed, but are 1-2 complete pages in his hand, encompassing the same variety of subjects as does his actual body of work.

A letter of Ralph Waldo Emerson about Thoreau and his school, sold by Raab

Then come his letters, which, when they happen to appear on the market, often relate to accepting or rejecting invitations to lecture. These are brief, say little to nothing, but yet are uncommon enough to command top dollar.

Documents of any consequence of Thoreau are diamonds in the rough.  These are documents relating to what Thoreau means to us, his expression of the Transcendentalist movement, his living on the land, and his knowledge of the land and its broader significance to humanity. On rare occasion these appear and can be very expensive.

A letter from Thoreau mentioning Transcendentalism, carried by Raab

When the descendants of the original owners of a property, surveyed by Thoreau in 1856, and whose survey is described in his journals, contacted us to sell that survey, we were excited. Thoreau is one of the great men of history who are also professional surveyors, among them George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Thoreau did two things to earn money that he felt were worthy of life: he wrote and he surveyed. While he had disdain for the work of the mass of men, for him surveying was different. He surveyed because it made him a living and because it was a way for him to express something about the land, of the land. This survey is an expression of that love and that vision of life. It is as rare as it is compelling.

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