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[William Franklin Sands 1915–1926 Investment and Banking Correspondence.]
[William Franklin Sands 1915–1926 Investment and Banking Correspondence.]
[William Franklin Sands 1915–1926 Investment and Banking Correspondence.]

[William Franklin Sands 1915–1926 Investment and Banking Correspondence.]

With material from Thomas W. Streeter

Morristown, New Jersey-resident William Franklin Sands (1874–1946) was a veteran American diplomat-turned-private international trade executive. This modest collection reveals his involvement in foreign trade and international investment in the early 20th century.

Four letters, some retained or copied, are from or concern the American International Corporation, an investment trust, for whom Sands would eventually be employed as an executive assistant. Two of these, from 1915, are from American investment banker and diplomat, Willard Dickerman Straight; here writing as the vice-president of American International Corporation. These missals are brief, but Straight writes a little over a month after the founding of AIC. In part:

I am glad to know that you are enthusiastic as regards prospects for development in Russia. I must say I entirely agree with your views and hope that something can be done. People in this country are constantly becoming more and more alive to the necessity of foreign investment and development and I think that we can count upon a much more sympathetic hearing than we have ever been able to get before.” One of Straight’s letters has a brief pencil annotation by Thomas W. Streeter (see below).

Another missive is a retained carbon copy of a 2¼-page single-spaced typed letter written by Sands. It reveals him to be a shrewd businessman. Briefly mentioning Bertie Charles Forbes (founder of Forbes magazine), he writes to Charles A. Stone, the president of AIC; skillfully presenting to Stone AIC’s priorities in regards to banking, financing and investments abroad. Sands concisely puts forth the business climates and the particular business opportunities (or non-opportunities) in post-war Russia, Poland, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. On banking matters, Sands writes, in part:

Nevertheless, Mr. Forbes’ relations in London and the position of A.I.C. can be materially advanced by being drawn into whatever negotiations the new bank, when launched, may find it advisable to undertake in London, and I take it for granted that the London connection is essential to its success. It is this strategic advantage to A.I.C. that I wish particularly to emphasize. The creation of the Acceptance Bank as planned is of such importance, not only because it is the first concrete and workable undertaking which has yet appeared after all the discussion of European conditions by our most prominent financiers, but also because it breaks into a specialized British field with every chance of success, that it cannot fail to attract considerable attention among London bankers. It may therefore be played to the limit with advantage as an A.I.C. achievement and our prestige increased by drawing in our London representative as closely as possible during the initial negotiations. We cannot get away from the fact that London is still the financial center of the world…

Sands’ mind turns to the wider strategic view:

My particular problem for the moment with regard to Europe is the development of a practical working organization preserving a maximum of initiative and independence to each of our representatives and at the same time to centralize and harmonize their activities in such a way as to avoid lost motion, overlapping, and unnecessary expense, and I am of the opinion that such a European organization would obtain the best results by focusing on London. (May 27, 1920, pp2–3)

Two memoranda, both from October 1922 and issued by the American International Corporation, pertain to leading U.S. telegraph cable companies. Conceivably, they could be contextualized within the subject of espionage; the U.S. State Department’s arrangements with the three major American cable companies to obtain copies of private, including diplomatic, communications.¹

The first memoranda documents cable routes and mileage of the three major American cable companies: The Mackay Companies (who controlled the Commercial Cable Co. and the Postal Telegraph System), Western Union Telegraph Company, and All America Cable Company. The second memorandum, entitled “Cable Companies – Litigation” summarizes the current state of the U.S. Government’s disputes with Western Union over the issue of monopolization of South American cable connections and with the government’s lawsuit to recover “...excessive payments to the [Postal Telegraph] Cable Company during the war.”

Further material: Two letters from Newcomb Carlton, President of Western Union, and one from Clarence Mackay, President of the Mackay Companies. The letters concern Sands seeking employment opportunities. A November 20, 1922 letter from the Assistant to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, Christian A. Herter, also likely concerns Sands’ search for employment. A TLS from Thomas W. Streeter, sometime-American International Corporation (AIC) executive and noted American book collector, and a transmitted copy of another letter by which Streeter proposes Sands as a candidate for a position with “the Radio Company” in Europe. A retained carbon copy of a 1926 2¼-page single-spaced typed letter written by Sands to Pasquale Z. Simonelli, President of the Italian Savings Bank of New York in 1926, provides detailed thumbnail sketches of American bankers.

A final tranche presents 12 items that document Sands’s membership in the high-powered club, Société Immobilière de L’Union Interalliée, including his certificate as a club shareholder.  Three letters from and to Sands and his spouse. One abbreviated curriculum vitae stating Sands’s education (Georgetown University); his diplomatic experience (e.g., advisor to Emperor of Korea 1900 to 1904, American Minister to Guatemala); his business experience (e.g. working with American International Corporation); and his standing in Society, (e.g. Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France). Three ephemeral items.

For more on Sands, see his 1930 book Undiplomatic Memories.

Description: [William Franklin Sands 1915–1926 Investment and Banking Correspondence.]

New York, Paris, Morristown, New Jersey, Washington [D.C.], 1915–1926. Thirty-two total items: 14 Letters, some retained copies. 2 Memoranda. The balance being documents, receipts, a stock certificate and ephemera. Fold lines; general wear; Very Good.


Beginning in 1919 (and despite the 1912 Act to Regulate Radio Communication which forbade the divulging of the content of cable communications), the U.S. State Department made arrangements with the three major American cable companies to obtain copies of private, including diplomatic, communications. Newcomb Carlton of Western Union was the first to accept this new arrangement. It is interesting to speculate why William F. Sands sought employment with Western Union and why Newcomb Carlton wrote to tell Sands he had no work for him, only to write back four days later saying he would review the situation. Was Sands working again on behalf of the U.S. Government; to facilitate needed access to private cable communications?  See also Bamford, The Puzzle Palace, A Report on America’s Most Secret Agency (Boston, 1982).

Price: $450.00