Examining a 1799 Indenture Document
By Tom Carrier
EDITOR’S NOTE: Visiting the small New England town of Brimfield, Mass., is usually a normal, everyday occurrence, as you roll right through Route 10 on the way out of town. It is a sleepy little burg, except when it becomes the “Antiques Capital of the United States.” For one week every spring, summer and fall, the small town of about 5,000 doubles as about 5,000 antique dealers take up residence in tents erected about a half mile on either side of Route 10, the main drag in and out of town.
I had the opportunity to explore the offerings of many dealers at the summer 2008 session of Brimfield, and found Paul Norton of Hartco Trunks from West Hartford, Conn. set up in one of those tents. He had an assortment of some rather amazing small and large antiques, but one item particularly caught my attention.
“The Indenture is from 1799 and is English,” Norton says. “I acquired it at an estate sale down in Connecticut and I was attracted to it because of all the hand work, the calligraphy and so forth. I priced it to sell at what I thought was a reasonable price, but its decorative value is probably much higher than the $250 that I have on it,” Norton explains.
An indenture is a contract between two parties, most commonly assumed to be for labor or an apprenticeship. While it was certainly issued for that, known as indentured servitude, the indenture was also used to purchase land or buildings and even to contract for military officers as far back as the 14th century.
What I point out to Paul is that each indenture is “escalloped,” that is the rounded edges at the top are actually cut from a larger piece of parchment, or vellum. The part cut from the indenture is, in fact, a duplicate made specifically for the other party under contract or deposited in the requisite land office or local court as an official copy. If there were more than one party to the contract, an additional copy was made and given to the other party as well.
“What’s really important, though, is the stamp. Anything that was written or official had to have a stamp as a tax. As part of the tax, the stamp had to be included on the document or it wasn’t legal. The piece of silver, it is pure silver, shows that the document is legal,” I told him. “Without that piece it is not a legal document.” This tax stamp is English, but an earlier tax stamp from the American colonial era, particularly around the 1760s, has a particularly high value and is coveted by collectors.
At times there are usually red wax impressions at the bottom of the document. “It is just a wax stamp, that generally didn’t belong to anyone in particular. It is an 18th century version of the “X,” a generic stamp,” I continued.
There are large indentures, small ones, even double-page ones that I have owned over the years. As an early collectible, they are fun, interesting, and usually within $25 to $250 and were issued even until the early 19th century. Each one is unique, distinctive and is particularly decorative for any room. History can be fun after all.
To watch a video of Tom Carriers’ discussion of indenture with Paul Norton, click here.
To see an example of indenture from Worthopedia, click here.
Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects, including vexillology, or the study of flags.
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