February 2015 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Presidential Lost & Found

For this President's Day, how about a quick gamgeorge-washington-portrait-1.jpge of Presidential Lost & Found? Prompted by an article published in Slate last week ("Who Owns Lincoln's Letters"), in which professor Louis P. Masur accosts private collectors who squirrel away important presidential documents, I wondered about presidential books and letters surreptitiously saved (by collectors) and then brought to light.

Masur mentions one -- in 1984, Lincoln's last address was found in the secret compartment of an antique table in Long Island. Malcolm Forbes then bought it at auction for $231,000. An amazing find, completely unknown to the consignors, but obviously treasured by some former owner. (Another Lincoln document was dislodged from a college president's closet in 2013.)

What of George Washington's has turned up recently? In 2007, one of his letters was unearthed from a scrapbook kept by a young girl named Julia Kean. It's now safely housed at Kean University in New Jersey. Amidst the playing cards and party invitations, she also had a Thomas Jefferson letter. 

Speaking of Jefferson, a cache of his annotated books was discovered in the collection of Washington University in St. Louis in 2011. His books were scattered at auction upon his death; these 74 volumes were acquired by collector Joseph Coolidge. (You can read more about that in our Fall 2011 issue).