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Stately Signatures

Presidential autograph album spans centuries By Peggy Carouthers Peggy Carouthers lives in North Carolina and is the editor of custom content at Journalistic Inc.

When an album of 130 Civil War-era signatures, including those of Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet, turned up in a Boston bookshop in 1954, the question the new owner had to answer was whether or not to simply preserve the album or to add to it.

Album with more than 130 Civil War-era signatures, including Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet, and signed by eighteen Presidents, 1864-2010. Estimate: $60,000 to $90,000. Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

The album was purchased by Herbert Klingelhofer, the president of the Manuscript Society, who became the most recent of at least three owners who added to the collection.

“The person who first owned this autograph album is unknown, but they arranged for the book to be signed by some of the most important figures during the Civil War, suggesting that this person was either extremely persistent or well-connected or both,” says Marco Tomaschett, autograph specialist for Swann Auction Galleries. “Through inheritance or purchase, a later collector got the book and continued to pester subsequent presidents for their signatures.”

Klingelhofer continued the chain, gathering the signatures of modern presidents. The album now contains eighteen presidential signatures, including John F. Kennedy and both Roosevelts—fourteen of which are on a single page.

“As an avid collector and resident of Washington, D.C., [Klingelhofer] continued the mission of the album’s first owner by securing the signatures of every president since he obtained the book, including Barack Obama,” Tomaschett says.

Album with more than 130 Civil War-era signatures, including Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet, and signed by eighteen Presidents, 1864-2010. Estimate: $60,000 to $90,000. Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

After Klingelhofer’s death in 2015, the album will find a new collector at auction. In honor of the 2016 presidential elections, Swann Galleries will hold a November 1 Auto-graphs auction including the album, which has an estimated value of $60,000 to $90,000.

Tomaschett predicts the value of such a collection can only continue to rise with the move to electronic communications. Due to the significance of this album, the auction is expected to influence the political autograph collection market for the next few years.

“Depending on the results of the auction, we may see an influx of people recognizing the value of old autograph books they currently own,” says Tomaschett. “We hope that this will encourage people to continue collecting current autographs.”

Though it is difficult to amass large collections of autographs, Tomaschett still notes that these albums make excellent entry points for new and casual collectors who are interested in learning more about history.

“Autographs provide a window into the past for even the most casual collector,” he says. Owning a primary document such as an autograph puts one instantly in touch with history. As the collector revisits her collection over the years, she might find that she has been inspired to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the items in her collection. Collecting autographs is a gentle path to becoming an amateur historian.”

Tomaschett and the team at Swann are prepared to help new and veteran collectors as they search for and sell historical documents, manuscripts, autographs, and more.

“Established in 1941, Swann Galleries is the oldest continually operating major auction house specializing in works on paper,” Tomaschett says. “We pride ourselves on being more approachable than what people expect of an auction house.”

From presidential autographs to other paper collectibles, Swann’s history of expertise lends support to the most recent generation in a long line of stewards of historical memorabilia.

Peggy Carouthers lives in North Carolina and is the editor of custom content at Journalistic Inc.