Saturday, October 07, 2006

A revealing look at an 1871 estate settlement
By Robert A. Doyle, CAI, ISA, CES, CAGA

50th President of the National Auctioneers Association
Principal Auctioneer/Appraiser Absolute Auction & Realty, Inc.

Robert A. Doyle


Collecting auction-related memorabilia and studying the history of auctions is very rewarding. Each acquisition provides a snippet of historical information that reveals or reinforces data on how auctions were conducted in earlier times. One such artifact is a complete packet of 1871 documents assembled by the executor on the settlement of a modest estate.

This packet of material was all stored in a folded cardboard envelope tied with pink material. The front and end of the envelope are titled in pen “Estate of Israel Tolman. 1871” The contents include handwritten documents from the Probate Court, letters regarding a real estate transaction, a list of expenses of the executor, a small string bound book with “Appraisement & Inventory,” a sample of the auction notice broadside, and other correspondence pertaining to the settlement.

Israel Tolman of Sharon, Massachusetts passed away on July 24, 1871. I’m certain he would have been surprised to know that anyone would be writing about his modest estate settlement 122 years later! Nonetheless, the information contained is original, complete, concise and accurate for the time and therefore is of great interest importance. His Estate was probated on September 20th 1871 at the Norfolk County Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At that time the Will was probated and Ruel Richmond from North Bridgewater was named the Executor.

packet of materialIt is obvious that this packet belonged to the Executor and that he was very thorough in his dealings. In the handwritten book titled “Inventory of Personal Estate. Israel Tolman” and dated September 26, 1871 is a list of items “Given under the Will to Mrs. Susanna P. Tolman, Widow.” The list includes an appraisal of the itemized items under the name of the room that housed the personal property. For example in the “Parlor” there was a “Looking Glass” (wall mirror) valued at $2.50, a bureau - $5., 3 rocking chairs - $1.50 and a sofa - $10.00. (Note: Upholstered furniture and textiles were much more expensive in the 18th and 19th century compared to hardwood furniture and other household items. The 1871 appraisal values a “Pie Closet” at $5., 4 Bedsteads at a total of $10, compared to “Sheets, coverlets & blankets” at $75, and 4 “featherbeds” at $60. The total of the list bequeathed to Susanna was $399.95, which included “Garden stuff” and “Crops not harvested.”

Additional assets in the estate include a $100 note with $3.60 interest, a US Bond valued at $360 and $142.90 in cash. Outside the “Personal Estate for Payment of Debts and Administration” was a list of the items that sold at the auction of October 20th 1871. The cow fetched $46.50, 3 tons of hay - $90. 9 hews - $4.50, 1 hog - $15. and 11 “Bunches of Shingles” - $8.25. An open wagon went for $7 while a sleigh only brought $2. A few of the lowest clerked items were “Hammers - .10, “Peat cutters-.25” and hand rakes fetched a total of fifteen cents.

The appraisal of the Real Estate included, “Homestead – 30 acres with building - $4,250., a 2 acre woodland - $70., 10 acres woodland - $150., and 1 ½ acre meadow - $60.“

The Executor listed expenses for services including the cost of the “Appraisement” at fifty-five cents and the cost of “Inventory” at fifty cents.

To officiate as auctioneer
One of the more revealing handwritten letters was executed by the Executor Revel Richmond and dated Oct 11, 1871 to Mr. Marm. In this letter Revel writes, “I have dropped a note to Mr. Lecavitt of Canton to officiate as Auctioneer, as I am unacquainted with such business.” At the end of the letter he adds, “ Expect to hear from Mr. Lecavitt immediately, I may fail to get him, then I shall have to do something further.”

What is most interesting is that fact that copies of the auction notices were enclosed with the same letter as Revel writes, “Will you please post the inclosed Notices, as many of them as you think are advantage to the sale.” The auction notices are printed and being distributed and the auctioneer has not been selected yet! Further, the auction is scheduled for October 20, just 9 days from the writing of this letter.

auction broadsideNote that the auction notice dated Friday October 20, 1871 does not list the name of the Auctioneer or clerk (Perhaps the Executor was the clerk). I have often been curious about early auction broadsides that did not list the name of the auctioneer. Here is proof that the Executor printed the broadsides and distributed them before choosing an auctioneer.

The auction broadside is fairly simple and straightforward. Measuring 9 ½” x 13,” it provides a simple list, no directions (obviously everyone new where the premises of “Israel Tolman of Sharon” was) and the simple terms of “cash on delivery.” The auction was to start at 1 p.m.– typical of a small estate auction. After lunch saves the expense of providing a “free lunch” which would have been customary had the auction been a large one. (10 a.m. start)

These documents provide a glimpse at how simple life, and the handling of estate settlements were during the mid-19th Century in America. Considering that there were challenges with the transfer of one parcel of real property that necessitated 3 weeks of legal announcements in the “Norfolk County Gazette,” the estate still settled within a couple of months. All the documents involving the closing out of the estate including court letters, copy of Will and all correspondence came neatly folded in one envelope. The end of Israel Tolmans life neatly wrapped up in 1871.



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