History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


Melville W. Fuller

Poignant letter in which the Chief Justice sends thanks

for condolences on the death of his wife

Melville Weston Fuller, 18331910.  Chief Justice of the United States, 18881910.  Autograph Letter Signed, Melville W. Fuller, as Chief Justice, one page, 4½” x 6¾”, with integral leaf attached, on black-bordered mourning stationery, Sorrento, [Maine], September 20, 1904.

In this poignant letter, the Chief Justice thanks the official Reporter of Decisions, Charles Henry Butler, for condolences on the death of his wife the previous month.  Fuller writes, in full:  “Dear Mr. Reporter  /  I deeply appreciate the kind expression of your and Mrs. Butler’s sympathy. My children join me in acknowledgement.  /  I am, with sincere regards to you both,  /  Very truly yours  /  Melville W. Fuller.”

Mary Ellen “Molly” Coolbaugh Fuller died unexpectedly during the afternoon of August 17, 1904, after being stricken while sitting on the piazza of the family’s summer cottage, “Mainestay,” at Sorrento, on the northeast coast of Maine.  She was 59 years old.  The Associated Press reported that she died from heart disease.

Born in Iowa in 1845, Molly was 12½ years younger than Chief Justice Fuller.  They were married May 30, 1866, after Fuller’s first wife, Calista Ophelia Reynolds Fuller (1838–1864), had died 18 months before at age 26.  Fuller and Molly had eight children, seven daughters and a son.  Following funeral services in Sorrento the day after her death, she was buried in Chicago, where Fuller, a native of Maine, had practiced law until President Grover Cleveland appointed him Chief Justice in 1888. 

In a 1907 letter in which he sent birthday wishes to Cleveland, Fuller noted that he himself was 74 years old and was “perfectly willing to go, for I expect to meet her at the crossing & so be helped over.”  In fulfillment of his oft-expressed wish, the Chief Justice later died in the same room in the Sorrento home in 1910. 

Fuller has penned this letter in black fountain pen in his typical scrawl, which by this point in his life showed some shakiness as well.  The letter has one flattened horizontal mailing fold, which touches a few letters of the text but not Fuller’s signature.  There is some evidence of handling and a bit of soiling in the lower blank margin, but it is not particularly noticeable.  Overall the letter is in fine to very fine condition.

In our experience, Fuller’s autograph material, particularly his letters, is scarce, and we have not found another letter with this type of personal content.  Our research found only two other Fuller letters on black-bordered stationery, the one to Cleveland and another in which Fuller responded to an autograph request.  We have found only a handful of Fuller’s handwritten in auction results since 1975.  Even Fuller’s typed letters signed are scarce.  More often his autograph is found in signed cards.  Collectors of Supreme Court material should therefore carefully consider adding this letter to their collections.

Unframed.    Please ask us about custom framing this piece.


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