William Wheeler III: The Quest for American History

William Wheeler III’s collection of Revolutionary and Presidential Americana, coming to auction June 21, began on his 21st birthday with the gift of his three-times-great-uncle’s appointment as an Ensign to the Massachusetts Militia in the Revolutionary War, signed by John Hancock. His fascination with the material artifacts of the period, however, had begun even earlier.


William Wheeler III


As a sixth grader in Worcester, Massachusetts, Wheeler spent afternoons at the American Antiquarian Society, browsing the archives of pre-Revolutionary newspapers and pamphlets. History came alive for him through the records of courageous acts he’d learned about in school.



Lot 202: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Typed Letter Signed, to W.T. Garner, describing his successful polio treatment, Warm Springs, October 1927.
Estimate $2,500 to $3,500.


In adolescence, a bout of polio sparked an admiration for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and other figures whose lives were touched by the condition. By the time of his 21st birthday and the acquisition of the Hancock autograph, a close personal relationship had developed between Wheeler and his historical heroes via their letters, documents and memorabilia.


Lot 136: Andrew Jackson, Autograph Letter Signed, to editor Thomas Eastin, concerning a dispute that would lead to a duel in which he killed Charles Dickinson, Nashville, February 1806. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000.


A particular interest in Andrew Jackson, inspired by records of his own ancestors’ dealings with him, drove Wheeler to learn and acquire everything he could about the president. He wanted the whole story: What drove Jackson to act the way he did? Each Autograph Letter and Document Signed added dimension to the story Wheeler was learning about the development of the American political system.


Lot 75: Pay order for £12 to express rider Jonathan Park “to enable him to defrey his Expences going express to Philadelphia” to warn the Continental Congress of the imminent arrival of British warships, Massachusetts, 3 May 1776.
Estimate $20,000 to $30,000.


His deeply personal collection grew, enhanced by his work as manufacturing consultant, creating a corpus simultaneously heartfelt and incisive. Each acquisition added a chapter to Wheeler’s personal understanding of the American story. It is his hope that the auction will enrich the “stories” of other collectors.

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