NEW YORK — The hottest Broadway show is shining its spotlight on a collection of historic American documents: Alexander Hamilton's letters, being auctioned at Sotheby's.
Javier Munoz, who plays him in the Broadway musical, got teary-eyed Tuesday as he held the only known letter from Hamilton's son Philip to the man addressed as "Papa." The son asks his father for advice on a written presentation, noting that his mentor had deleted a sentence Hamilton liked best.
"I'm overwhelmed," said Munoz, who held the delicate old piece of paper unprotected, asking permission to flip it over. "It's sort of like walking into someone's apartment and looking at the desk where they work. And that's so revealing about how their mind works."
Dozens of the letters penned by one of the nation's founding fathers will go on the block Jan. 18, with an estimated worth starting at $1.4 million and topping $2 million. But Sotheby's expects the feverish interest in the megahit "Hamilton" likely will drive prices up.
The most valuable item of the auction, estimated at $300,000 to $500,000, is one of Hamilton's "Pacificus" essays probing a contentious issue — George Washington's declaration of his nation's neutrality in the conflict between France and Great Britain.
"This is a unique conjunction of historical material with the popular zeitgeist," said Selby Kiffer, the auction house's expert on books and manuscripts. "I have not experienced anything like this before."
The designer of the show's sets, David Korins, also created parts of Sotheby's Americana exhibit space that includes the kind of furniture and art that surrounded Hamilton in his daily life.
Above the displays, Korins strung bunjee-like tension cords in red, white and blue as links leading visitors around, reflecting the threads of an American flag.
Munoz said that reading Hamilton's private thoughts on everything from his love life and political career to war and even gardening will have a deep effect on his performance, especially details that don't appear on Broadway.
"Part of the awe for me is how casual so much of this is," said Munoz, who with Korins giggled as they pored over one letter in which Hamilton writes flirtatious words to his sister-in-law, Angelica Church.
People expect every word and letter of such manuscripts to be lifted to historical dimensions, Munoz said, "meanwhile, it's like, 'hey, how are you?' — you know, like my tweet to somebody, or I just texted my mom."
The letters belong to Hamilton's descendants.