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Edmund Randolph

The Secretary of State sends a man with coinage experience

to advise the director of the young United States Mint in Philadelphia

Edmund Jennings Randolph, 1753–1813.  First Attorney General of the United States, 1789–1794; second Secretary of State, 1794–1795; Governor of Virginia, 1786–1788.  Autograph Letter Signed, Edm. Randolph, one page, with integral leaf attached, 5" x 7½", [no place], “Tuesday,” [no date; circa December 1794].

Randolph, as Secretary of State, writes to David Rittenhouse, first director of the United States mint, noting his request that James Davy contact Rittenhouse regarding mint operations.  He writes, in full:  “Mr. James Davy having been acquainted with some works at Birmingham, analogous to the operations of the mint, I have requested him to call upon you; that you may avail yourself of his practical knowledge.  He would be glad to see the mint.  /  Yours truly . . . “  The letter is addressed to “Mr. Rittenhouse" in Randolphʼs hand on the integral leaf.

Randolph refers to the private mint facilities in Birmingham, England, that were especially active during the Eighteenth Century.  At Randolphʼs request, Davy, who regarded himself as an efficiency expert, visited the Philadelphia mint in December 1794 and then reported back to the Secretary of State.  The mint suffered from a shortage of copper for coinage and from inconsistent quality in it at that.  The rolling machinery, with which it manufactured strips of metal from which coin planchets, or blanks, were cut, was inadequate.  Copper coins were made by a hand-operated screw press operated by two men, each one at the end of a horizontal iron bar with the screw attached to the center.  Davyʼs 1794 report recommended improvements to the metal rolling process necessary to make the metal sheets suitable for cutting planchets for coining.  Among other deficiencies, Davy noted that “the supply of copper has not been regular" and that “the power now applied is not adequate."

Randolph, a lawyer from Virginia, supported the Revolution and was an aide-de-camp to General George Washington in 1775.  He was a member of the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention.  It was Randolphʼs proposal for a national judiciary that became Article III of the Constitution.

When Washington became the first President, he made Randolph his first Attorney General.  Randolph held that position from September 26, 1798, until January 26, 1794.  He became the second Secretary of State, succeeding Thomas Jefferson, on January 2, 1794.  He briefly held both offices simultaneously.  Near the end of his tenure as Secretary of State, the United States finalized negotiations for Pinckneyʼs Treaty, also known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo, which established friendly relations between the United States and Spain, established the boundary between the United States and the Spanish colonies, and guaranteed the United States the right to navigation on the Mississippi River. 

This letter has not been on the autograph market for some 70 years.  It comes from a large collection assembled in the 1940s. 

Randolph has penned and signed this letter boldly in dark brown ink.  His signature is 3" long.  An ink note in another hand on the inside of the letter identifies Randolph and notes the date as “Tuesday — 1795, which almost assuredly is incorrect given the historical record that Davy visited the mint in December 1794.  In the blank areas at the top and bottom, the letter has pencil notations, one of which records that Randolph was Secretary of State in President George Washingtonʼs cabinet.  Normal horizontal and vertical folds do not affect the signature.  Part of the wax seal is present, and there is paper loss to a corner of the integral leaf where it was sealed.  There is also light toning in areas around the folds, particularly on the integral leaf.  Overall this is a very nice letter in fine condition and a nice association to the early days of the United States government.




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