From 1980 to 1997 I collected antique documents of various kinds, primarily with a financial orientation. I started with beautifully designed and engraved stocks and bonds, mostly 19th century and mostly from Europe.
Then to non-beautiful, plain black and white Confederate war bonds, printed on thin, flimsy paper, which turned out to be surprisingly durable. Next I began acquiring stock and bond certificates signed by famous persons, notably the robber barons of the late 19th century.
Then back a century or more to the American Colonial period. Simultaneously with that quest, I began accumulating signed documents of our Presidents.
At a meeting of the Manuscript Society one year, I think 1993, David Chesnutt, the editor of Manuscripts, persuaded me to write an article on "something in your collection."
That was all the motivation I needed. I've been doing articles ever since for David and for Kristin Aguilera, editor of Financial History, the publication of The Museum of American Financial History, in New York, now a Smithsonian affiliate.
After I had accumulated two or three items signed by every American President, I went the other way. That is, I stopped acquiring and began distributing. The concept of sharing had a lot of appeal. I either gave away or sold almost all the valuable pieces.
Principal donations were the Confederate bond collection to Virginia Military Institute (to which I was introduced by VMI alumnus Haley Garrison). Then the early American-Colonial documents to the Museum of American Financial History, under the auspices of founder John Herzog and Diana Herzog.
Lastly, to VMI several dozen Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower letters and the General's original teletype announcing the surrender of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe.
Parting with all of this material was painful at first. But I learned that the main pleasure is in the acquisition rather that the contemplation. So the trauma of loss dissipated soon. Doing the research and writing the articles in this book proved a satisfying substitute for actually touching the papers.
My grateful thanks are due, in addition to those people mentioned above, to my wife, Patricia, who has been my gentle but wise critic throughout. Also to Sheila Hackler for her professional assistance in putting this book together. (Now I know what a book editor does!)
I'll continue writing, since I've come to the satisfying conclusion that the pen is mightier than the hoard.