Bruff’s Rare Rebus Letter
16. BRUFF, J[oseph] Goldsborough. Lithographed rebus letter dated at Washington City, August 1856. Lithograph of a letter written in script and phonic illustrations. Image approximately 26.6 x 42.5 cm (10-1/2 x 16-3/4 inches); printed across a double sheet measuring 29.2 x 45.8 cm (11-1/2 x 18 inches). Printed on thin wove white paper. Creased where formerly folded, some moderate spotting and staining, a few chips at blank margin, and several pinholes at old folds, but overall a very good copy of a rare, highly unusual, and amusing imprint. Very rare.
The issue with Bruff’s name misspelled “Godsborough.” Baird, California’s Pictorial Letter Sheets (p. 25, note 9) cites a Rebus Letter by Bruff, calling it an “unclassifiable ‘problem piece.’” The only copy Baird located was at the Society of California Pioneers, but it is no longer in their collection. Henry Clifford discovered two versions of the Rebus Letter—his and the Bancroft copy, and noted the following differences: On page 2 of the Bancroft copy the letter “a” of “A[bill][I][T] omitted and Goldsborough’s name misspelled Godsborough. The Clifford copy went to the California State Library (see Clifford Letter Sheet Catalogue 400). Howell, California 50:333a (describing the Jennie Crocker Henderson copy, now at the Bancroft Library): “Bruff, an accomplished artist, organized a company which traveled overland to the gold region in 1849-50. The letter refers to their trials and tribulations, as well as to the projected publication of Bruff’s notes and drawings on his arduous trip.”
This inimitable lithograph is entertaining, utterly captivating, and highly clever. Many meanings are indicated by charming phonic pictures rather than spelled words, such as the dateline for Washington City, with a miniature view of the city of Washington, D.C., the word “of”, and a bust portrait of George Washington. Bruff’s lively art work and wonderful sense of humor shine at their best in his rebus letter. There is such an immediacy and fluidity of line in the letter it is difficult to believe it was engraved on the stone in reverse. The technical achievement is a highly unusual tour de force of lithographic art. Bruff concludes: “Dont forget to drink my health at Barry & Pattens’, Drink it in Champagne and send me the bill. J. G. B. [J. Goldsborough Bruff].” As may be inferred, Bruff is a favorite artist (and cartographer) of this cataloguer; for more on his talent and genius, see the next item. ($4,000-8,000)
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