Lot #7
Thomas Jefferson

President Jefferson contemplates the "distillation of sea–water" for America's "ships of war"
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Estimate: $7500+


President Jefferson contemplates the "distillation of sea–water" for America's "ships of war"

Third-person ALS as president, one page, 7.75 x 9.5, July 13, 1805. In full: "Th: Jefferson presents his compliments & his thanks to Mr. Buxton for the drawings he has been so kind as to send him of a still for the distillation of sea–water. it has been for some time under his contemplation to have that process familiarized to our ships of war, which lose important time in going for water. With Mr. Buxton’s permission, his designs will be considered with a view to that object." In very good condition, with moderate overall soiling and extensive expert repairs and reconstruction to areas of missing paper and fold separations. Jefferson had been interested in the concept of the desalination of sea water since his time as secretary of state in the early 1790s, when a man named Jacob Isaacks claimed to have developed a solution to transform salt water into freshwater. Jefferson himself became involved in experiments testing the veracity of these claims, ultimately finding that Isaacks's mixture did 'not facilitate the separation of sea-water from its salt.' Furthermore, other methods of desalination were already known, and Jefferson undertook research into the topic. It seems that he and the recipient of this letter, Charles Buxton, conversed on this subject in April 1793, and Buxton took it upon himself to forward his own drawings for what he believed to be a more efficient 'distilling apparatus' more than a dozen years later. Although 'evaporators' for distilling salt water were beginning to be used on warships—Lord Nelson's HMS Victory was outfitted with one in 1805—it seems they were still relatively unheard of in the United States. A fascinating letter connecting Jefferson to American ingenuity as it related to the early US Navy. Pre-certified PSA/DNA.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autographs And Artifacts
  • Dates: #495 - Ended March 15, 2017

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