"Blind Tom." [Bethune, Thomas. or Wiggins, Thomas.] (1849-1908)

Rare Autograph Signature and 1866 Portrait Lithograph

An extremely rare autograph from the remarkable blind African-American concert pianist. A signed card with a note on the verso from one of his managers, W.R. Northrup, noting that this is the first time Tom has tried to write and that he guided his hand. Examples of Tom's "mark" appear on the market from time to time, but this is the first true autograph we have ever seen available. Sold together with a complete 1866 issue of Harper's Weekly which includes a fine portrait of "The Celebrated Negro Pianist."

Born enslaved and formally uneducated, his unique musical talent led to world tours, performances at the White House and an enthusiastic fan base that included Mark Twain. Now believed to be an autistic savant, during his amazing life this musical prodigy is reported to have learned to play more than 7,000 pieces, including standard classical and Romantic repertoire and many original compositions. One of the earliest concert reviews published in the Baltimore Sun on June 27, 1860 announced that Tom was a phenomenon in the musical world "thrusting all our conceptions of the science to the wall and informing us that there is a musical world of which we know nothing." Mark Twain, a great enthusiast for Tom's playing, wrote in 1869 that Tom "lorded it over the emotions of his audience like an autocrat. He swept them like a storm, with his battle-pieces; he lulled them to rest again with melodies as tender as those we hear in dreams; he gladdened them with others that rippled through the charmed air as happily and cheerily as the riot the linnets make in California woods; and now and then he threw in queer imitations of the tuning of discordant harps and fiddles, and the groaning and wheezing of bag-pipes, that sent the rapt silence into tempests of laughter. And every time the audience applauded when a piece was finished, this happy innocent joined in and clapped his hands, too, and with vigorous emphasis...Some archangel, cast out of upper Heaven like another Satan, inhabits this coarse casket; and he comforts himself and makes his prison beautiful with thoughts and dreams and memories of another time... It is not Blind Tom that does these wonderful things and plays this wonderful music--it is the other party." (1754)

Civil War