Lot 62 of 221:
Early legal photography Howland Will Trial  

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Lot closed - Sold For (Includes Buyers Premium):$3,750
$3,000 - $5,000

Manuscript comments by Albert Sands Southworth on depositions and evidence presented in the "Howland Will Trial"

Southworth, Albert Sands



September, 1867


15 page manuscript, illustrated with 12 pages of original salt print photographs. 26x20.5 cm (10¼x8") original cloth-backed marbled boards, manuscript label on front reading: "Robinson vs. Mandell, 80th C.C. U.S. Mass. District / For the Complainant / Dep. of Prof Agassiz 412-431 / " " [Dep. of] Alice C. Driscoll / 432-443 also to 461."

The printed pages of the depositions discussed in the manuscript are photographed four to a page and placed throughout the document. Robinson vs. Mandell (aka the Howland Will Trial) was big news in the 1860s. It was the most sensational mid-nineteenth century trial in America. In 1865 Sylvia Ann Howard's $2,000,000 estate was at stake and there were two wills, one of them perhaps forged. In December 1868 the case was dismissed and the original will stood, evidently disappointing both scientific and legal audiences, because it was dismissed on a technicality. "Miss Hetty," the ambitious Henrietta Howland Robinson (1834-1916), only heir and witness to her aunt's earlier, contested will, had inherited a greater fortune from her father in 1865, and in 1867, during the course of the litigation, she remarried, becoming Hetty Green. After years of legal battles, she settled with the estate's trustees. After a sojourn of several years in London, perhaps to avoid the possibility of being indicted for forgery, she returned to the United States and soon after had great success as an operator on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1881 she moved her financial operations to New York where she flourished as America's first female tycoon, a miserly woman nicknamed "the Witch of Wall Street." When she died in 1916 she was the richest woman in America, and perhaps the whole world. This is an important document, relevant to legal history, the history of science, and American photography. 

It comprises Southworth's photographs of the printed pages of depositions taken in May 1867, a photograph combining multiple photographs of Sylvia Ann Howard's signature, and three sets of comments by Southworth: on the deposition of Professor Agassiz of Harvard University, on the deposition of Alice Driscoll, and on the deposition of Francis Bartlett, all of which relate to the photographs of Howard's signature (the negatives were made by Southworth in August 1866). Southworth's comments, some quite technical in the first part, take issue with details of Agassiz's deposition, express outrage at the testimony of Miss Driscoll, who saw some of the photographs before the court did ("It flashed upon me that she was a 'spy' and I answered very curtly 'As far as I am concerned you know nothing about them.' She left me quickly and went back to Miss Hetty."), and defends giving Bartlett the photographs he requested "by Judge Thomas' permission." During the ensuing trial Southworth was deposed two times in support of the claim of forgery against the complainant, Hetty Green, and was a key player in the trial. He provided a large number of photographs in evidence. "At the head of their experts, marches Albert S. Southworth, one of the earliest photographers in the country, for twenty-five years engaged in this business; once a teacher of penmanship, and for six or seven years much devoted to questions of handwriting, a frequent expert in courts of law. The study of these signatures and these enlarged photographs has occupied him for weeks. He concludes in the strongest language that signatures #10 and #15 are not genuine" (ALR, pp. 644-46). Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894) was one of the finest photographers in America, and of great importance to the history of photography. He was an inventor as well as an innovator, and a pioneer in the use of photography to analyze handwriting in court (this document includes a series of signatures on a single page for comparison). Although the case was dismissed, the trial was a landmark in the use of science in court, not only of photography and microscopy (Southworth and Agassiz), but of mathematics as well -- the statistical analysis of Charles Sanders Peirce is of particular importance in the history of American jurisprudence.

Lot Amendments

Backstrip perished and the manuscript is largely disbound, but the manuscript pages and plates are in excellent condition overall.

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