The Marquis de Sade complained about his mother-in-law and the state of his finances in a 1776 letter to his lawyer a few months before his arrest for nonstop debauchery.
The four-page missive, with an estimated range of $4,000 to $6,000, is part of a 247-lot sale being conducted tomorrow by the auctioneer Profiles in History. (His mother-in-law’s intense loathing and great political connections eventually landed him in the Bastille.)
Letters written by Mohandas Gandhi, George Washington, Marilyn Monroe and others could tally as much as $5 million. The sale, titled “The Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector, Part II” will take place in Westlake Village, California, and online. It’s the second in a series of sales dealing with a collection totaling 3,000 manuscripts.
“Their first sale had excellent American political and military history,” said Seth Kaller, a private art dealer in historic documents. “This sale has some of that, but its focus is really a much wider tribute to genius across many fields. It’s really an amazing assemblage.”
The top item by estimate is Thomas Edison’s handwritten laboratory notebook, which could fetch $80,000 to $120,000. With 121 pages and 8 sketches, it contains logs of Edison’s 1927-28 experiments to find alternative organic sources for the production of rubber for car tires.
Eight drawings that were part of Edison’s original patent application for a light bulb are estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.
Another highlight is an archive of 56 signed letters written by nine 20th-century scientists, including seven Nobel Prize winners, to German physicist and philosopher Moritz Schlick.
The group, which is expected to bring $60,000 to $80,000, includes five signed letters by Albert Einstein and nine autographed letters by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Monroe’s desperate letter to her mentor Lee Strasberg is expected to bring $30,000 to $50,000. The two-page dispatch is written on stationery from Hollywood’s Hotel Bel-Air.
“I am still lost -- I mean I can’t get myself together,” the actress wrote. “I sound crazy but I think I’m going crazy ... It’s just that I get before a camera and my concentration and everything I’m trying to learn leaves me. Then I feel like I’m not existing in the human race at all.”
Charles Darwin’s signed four-page letter discussing a new French edition of “The Origin of Species” expresses his ambition “to influence the judgment of the naturalists of that country.” It is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000.
Gandhi’s 1930 letter to a friend that mentions a revolution -- along with biscuits and fruit experiments -- has an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000.
A short missive by Ludwig van Beethoven is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. It was written in 1805, shortly before the premiere of “Fidelio,” the composer’s sole opera, and addressed to Friedrich Sebastian Mayer, the baritone who sang the part of Don Pizarro in early performances.
Washington’s signed, three-page letter written on Jan. 10, 1786, from Mount Vernon is expected to bring $30,000 to $50,000. The letter expresses the future president’s hope to hire black slaves as laborers for the construction of navigable canals connecting the western territories with the Atlantic states.
John Lennon’s bitter typed letter to Paul and Linda McCartney urges the couple to get off their “high horse.” Unsigned, it features hand-written notes and is estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.