Land grant signature needs verified

By Terry Maurer, What's it Worth January 22, 2012 

In today's What's it Worth? we answer readers' questions about a 19th century government document and a sporting book from 1932. Each has value as an object and each may have added value because of the autographs they carry. Let's go fishing - and maybe to the president's office.

Q. We recently came across an original land grant document, issued Dec. 31, 1890. The grant was given to Jane Cain and was signed in two places by Benjamin Harrison, president of the United States. It has a red seal affixed that identifies it as the seal of the General Land Office. What say you? -- A.C. in Pasco.

A. There's no question this is an authentic U. S. land grant for a tract in what were called the Osage Trust Lands in Kansas. They were located in the southeastern part of the state and settlers had been eyeing the Indian Trusts since the end of the Civil War. The region was ceded to the Osage Nation as a reservation in 1825.

As westward migration expanded nothing could hold back the tribes being pushed off the desirable area. The land "rushes" ranged from the famous one in Oklahoma in 1893 to quieter, but nonetheless permanent, white settlement of such places as Montgomery County, Kan.

That's where this land grant was sited. It was issued to Ms. Cain after a certificate was presented by the Register of Lands in Independence, Kan.

As a document of American history, in this excellent condition, this document is worth about $100. But, there is a catch that may make it much more valuable.

It carries a signature reading "Benjamin Harrison," the 23rd president of the United States. On the best of all market days, Harrison's signature from the time he was president is worth between $600 and $800.

Thus, the question -- was this signed by the president or by a secretary, in this case, M. M. Beau, who was authorized to sign for the president?

Our view (and we're not experts) is this is more than likely a signature done by the secretary, not President Harrison himself. Such secretarial signatures were authorized by Congress before the Civil War and were common by the late 19th century.

Usually, the president would sign "important" documents -- say, the appointment of an ambassador -- and "common" documents, such as land grants (there were thousands) would be signed in the president's name by the authorized secretary.

The question is trickier than it looks and it will require a specialist to authenticate the autograph. There are several independent organizations providing authentication, including presidential signatures. Their opinions, which come for a fee, are the "gold standard" in this field.

Q. I'm an avid fly fisherman and have taken to buying books on the subject, The most recent addition to my collection is Just Fishing, by Ray Bergman. Originally published in 1932, mine is the ninth edition, from 1942. It is signed by the author and I wonder if that makes it valuable? -- Lyle in Richland.

A. Bergman was one of America's leading writers on trout and trout fishing. At age 25 he opened a sporting goods store in his hometown of Nyack, N.Y. He went on from there to a career as a writer, highlighted by 25 years as fishing editor of Outdoor Life magazine.

Just Fishing was the first of his many books. It came out six years before his classic Trout, which is thought by many to be the best book on American angling ever written.

Bergman worked in New York City for years, but always came home to Nyack, where he operated a mail order fishing tackle business.

Also a commercial fly tier, he sold an estimated a quarter-million trout flies during his career. He died in 1967 at age 75.

Just Fishing is considered a classic in the serious collecting field of American angling literature. The first edition of 1932 is worth about $100. With the author's signature, a first edition costs between $300 and $600, depending on condition.

This ninth edition, with no dust jacket and some spots on the cover, would only be worth $5. But, his signature brings the retail value up to $50.

-- Email Terry Maurer at

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