Leaders of America
Some Presidents and a King
Some Nearly Forgotten
by Stephen Koschal
Today, many might not know the name of Donald Grant Mitchell (1822-1908) who was an American novelist. He wrote under the pseudonym of Ik Marvel. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. called him “one of the pleasantest of our American writers.”
In one of Marvel’s writings American Lands and Letters (1897-1899) he writes regarding the seeking of autographs, calling it “that dreadful fever.” For those of us who have that fever, there may be no cure.
As long as I can remember, in the hobby of collecting autographs, collecting the signatures of the Presidents of the United States is the most popular field amongst serious collectors.
What I once wrote in my 1982 book, Collecting Books and Pamphlets Signed by the Presidents of the United States, still holds true. “Among autograph collectors, it is well known that the signatures of our Presidents are highly prized and very desirable. Nothing moves faster from any dealer’s stock than documents, letters and photos autographed by the Presidents of the United States.”
Once a collector gets bit by the bug and obtains their first presidential signature, it is inevitable that they will want to complete a set of signatures. Many start with collecting cuts mainly because of price and also because they are so easy to display. Others with deep pockets will collect letters, signed photos, documents, Executive Mansion cards, White House cards and The White House cards and signed books.
Recently, I visited with a doctor who collects autographs of the presidents and had finished a set from Washington through Obama. He was in a quandary of what to do now, appearing to be almost in a state of depression thinking he will have to wait a few more years before he could add to his collection.
I advised him he still has a way to go if he wanted to enhance his collection with those who have led America and were a President of the United States. The look I got from the doctor will never be forgotten. He said “what in the heck are you talking about.”
Let’s start pre Washington. Why not add a signed item of King George III? He was America’s last King. Items of all sorts are readily available and a mere signature could be found in the $200 to $250.00 range. The doctor’s eyes lit up and said that’s a wonderful idea. I also mentioned there are other collectors who feel the same way and their collections start with a George III.
Signature of George III, as King
Another signature to add to the presidential collection is one of David Rice Atchison (1807-1886). President James K. Polk’s term of office ended at noon on March 4, 1849. Polk’s Vice president who was also President of the Senate, George M. Dallas had resigned two days earlier on Friday, March 2. Therefore as of noon March 4, no President held the office. Atchison was a Senator from Missouri and succeeded Dallas as President of the Senate pro tempore. Laws state “in case of removal, death, resignation or inability of both the President and Vice president of the United States, the President of the Senate for the time being shall act as President…”
March 4, 1849 was the day Zachary Taylor was to have been inaugurated which fell on a Sunday. Planned was parade and addresses and a Presidential Ball. The inauguration was postponed until the next day, Monday the 5th.
Technically, David R. Atchison was President of the United States for one day. Some may argue this however Atchison wrote in his own diary he believed himself to be the Chief Executive. Over 110 years later, Harry Truman also believed that Atchison was President for one day. The State of Missouri erected a monument at his grave with the inscription: “David Rice Atchison, 1807-1886, President of U.S. one day. Lawyer, statesman and jurist.”
T.L.S’s, A.L.S’s appear on the market from time to time. A.L.S’s can get pricey and usually sell upwards of $2,000. Free Franks are limited to a few. Clipped signatures and signed album pages are the most common and usually signed as D.R. Atchison. When found they are usually in the $400 to $500 range.
Uncommon Full Signature of David R. Atchison
Something signed by Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) is always a popular addition to sets of the Presidents. Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865. There were eleven states that succeeded being South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas and Texas.
The Cherokee Nation had units in the Confederate Army but they were not part of the Confederacy. The Confederacy recognized the Cherokee Nation as being sovereign.
Items signed by Jefferson Davis are available in most forms. Included would be letters, documents and signed photographs. Signatures on cards are readily available and generally can be found in the $400 to $600 range.
Desirable full signature of Jefferson Davis
Thomas White Ferry (1826-1896) was Michigan’s candidate for vice president of the United States. In 1860. He was a prominent member of the convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln but his rival Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was more popular. In 1864 he was elected as a representative to the thirty-ninth Congress. He served several posts and in addition he was appointed a Congressional Commissioner for his state to accompany the body of Abraham Lincoln to his resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Ferry had served on several occasions as president pro tem in the senate. Upon the death of Vice President Henry Wilson in November 1875 he was chosen acting Vice President of the United States. President Grant’s term expired at noon time on March 4, 1877 and it wasn’t until noon of March 5 that President Hayes was inaugurated. Thomas Ferry was president of the United States for a period of 24 hours. Ferry was very popular with autograph seekers and his signatures on album pages and signed cards are somewhat abundant. When available the prices for one of his signatures range from $75 to $125.00.
The following illustration is a note written by Thomas Ferry dated at Washington, D.C. On November 30, 1875 responding to an autograph request.
Sam Rayburn (1882-1961). Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years. January 20, 1949, inauguration day and the first term of Harry Truman ended at 12 p.m. President Truman had no Vice president. Truman was not sworn back into office until 12:29 p.m. He was sworn in using two Bibles, a personal one he owned and used during taking his first oath and he also used a Gutenberg Bible that was donated by the citizens of Independence, Missouri. During the twenty five minutes of his first term ending and being sworn in, Sam Rayburn was President.
Signatures of Sam Rayburn have a great appeal to the eye. They are always large and bold. When available they sell in the range of $40 to $60.00. Signed photographs can be found in the $100 to $125.00 range.
Signature of Sam Rayburn
Harry Truman once wrote a letter to an autograph dealer on the subject of those who supposedly have been President for a day. Truman claims he was always interested in situations like this. The letter is reproduced below in its entirety.
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Harry Truman T.L.S. to an Autograph Dealer
George H.W. Bush (1924- ). Although a collector will have something signed by George H.W. Bush in their collection of signatures of President’s of the United States it is most interesting to note that Bush was President of the United States during his term as Vice President. Bush held the full powers of the presidency and did not know it when Ronald Reagan slipped into unconsciousness under anesthesia in the operating room in Bethesda Naval Hospital. Bush, as acting President, did not use his presidential powers during his eight plus hours of holding the title. Reagan in an unprecedented move transferred his powers to Bush in accordance with procedures of the 25th Amendment before undergoing surgery for the removal of a large tumor in his lower intestine. The transfer of authority took effect before Bush was officially notified. Reagan signed the letter at 10:32 a.m. on July 13, 1985 stating that Bush should discharge presidential powers and duties “in my stead commencing with the administration of anesthesia to me in this instance.”
Reagan left his hospital room heading for the operating room at 11:15 a.m. Anesthesia began at 11:28 a.m. It was not until 11:50 a.m. that Bush was formally notified by The White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan.
Bush’s presidential powers came to an end the same day at 7:32 p.m. Ronald Reagan signed a second letter reassuming his powers.
During this time I had wonderful access to George H.W. Bush and was able to have a photo get signed by him during this historical time. Of course, I did not know that Bush would be elected President of the United States a few years later so I had him place the date and time when he signed the photo. He dated the photo July 13, 1985 and dated it just one half hour after being notified that he held the full powers of the Presidency. Later I was told that I have the only signed photograph during that eight plus hours of Bush holding the powers of the presidency. See illustration below.
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Dick Cheney (1941- ) 46th Vice President of the United States (2001-2009). On the morning of June 29, 2002, Cheney served as Acting President of the United States under the terms of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. President George W. Bush was in the hospital undergoing a colonoscopy. Cheney acted as President from 11:09 until 13:24 when Bush resumed the powers.
Signatures of Cheney are available in the form of signed photographs and some signed books. Signed photographs range in price from $100 to $250. Beware of forgeries and items signed by the Autopen.
Signature of Dick Cheney
There was a time that another person possibly would have liked to have been acting President. Alexander Haig (1924-2010) was White House Chief of Staff under President Nixon and Ford. Haig was generally seen as ‘acting president” during Nixon’s last 6 months in The White House. Haig played an instrumental role finally persuading Nixon to resign. He also played a delicate role negotiating the transfer of powers from Nixon to President Ford.
During the March 30, 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, Haig told reporters “I am in control” (The White House) as a result of Reagan’s hospitalization and until Bush arrived in Washington. It is considered by some that Haig’s statement reflected political reality since Vice President Bush was not immediately available.
Adding a signature of Alexander Haig to a collection of Presidential signatures may be a bit of a stretch but one would make an interesting addition.
Genuine The White House card signed by Alexander Haig and Gerald R. Ford
Signatures of Alexander Haig are generally available and can be found in the range of $20 to $35.00.