A soldier from Indiana is hoping a flea market find -- a 221--year-old book he bought for $7 when he was a kid -- brings him big bucks.
Indiana National Guard Capt. Nathan Harlan, 35, bought a 1788 first edition of volume one of "The Federalist" — a two-volume collection of essays calling for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
Harlan bought the rare book when he was a junior in high school. He told The Associated Press that he always thought the relic was worth no more than about $500. Now up for auction on Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, it looks like the book could go for thousands of dollars when bidding closes on Tuesday.
“I'm really hoping it goes for $100,000, but I'm not holding my breath," Harlan said.
He was 16 when he and his mother happened upon the 227-page book while perusing items at a small flea market in Indiana. Harlan had just learned of “The Federalist” – also known as “The Federalist Papers” – in his high school history class, so he knew the purchase was a really special find.
Both volumes of “The Federalist” were printed months after the Constitution was first drafted in September 1787. Authors James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote and published the collection of essays in effort to rally public support for ratifying the document that provided the federal government’s framework, said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at The Library of Congress. Dimunation told The AP that the essayists wrote jointly under a single pseudonym so as to focus attention on the pro-ratification sentiments.
"It's one of the great political documents to come out of America," Dimunation told The AP. "And the favorite parlor game of the late 18th century was who wrote which essay."
The divorced father of three has kept the book in a display box for 19 years. But in April, Harlan decided to sell his cherished find on eBay, partly to make a profit and partly because he was the only member of his family who truly appreciated the book.
Before listing the piece, Harlan did an Internet search for “The Federalist” that led him to rethink eBay. He found that Heritage Auction Galleries had sold a two-volume set of the book in 2008 for $262,900. That price was boosted in part because it was in entirely original form and had been owned by a Revolutionary War soldier.
Harlan has just one volume, and its leather cover has been restored; yet the auction house still estimates that the piece will sell for $8,000 to $12,000. James Gannon, Heritage's director of rare books, considers that price range "very conservative" and believes that buyers’ bidding could push the selling price between $20,000 and $30,000 because the book is rare piece of history.