A half century, 1948-97, and what a half century it has been! These five decades saw three wars involving the United States, 10 presidents and a presidential assassination, a moon landing, the eradication of many childhood diseases, another San Francisco earthquake, domestic terrorism, and the dawn of the age of cyberspace. Through all of this, a small international organization devoted to the collection, preservation, and enjoyment of autographs and manuscripts was born, has matured, and today flourishes as the senior organization of its kind in the world.
The 15 collectors who met at the University Club in Chicago on the third day of 1948 to found the National Society of Autograph Collectors (which became the Manuscript Society in 1953) sowed the seeds of a thriving organization that today boasts some 1,800 members; it also publishes a respected quarterly journal, Manuscripts, and, since 1980, an informative quarterly newsletter.
Annual meetings, the first of which was held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in May 1948 with some 75 persons in attendance, have continued without interruption. Gatherings have been held in 22 states, the District of Columbia, and four foreign locations. At these meetings Society members have been addressed by such notables as Lewis Mumford, Catherine Drinker Bowen, Bruce Catton, and Coretta Scott King. They have had the opportunity to view some of the most important manuscripts of the Western world, in repositories throughout North America and abroad. Equally important, they have had the opportunity to examine and admire prize items from the collections of fellow members!
John M. Taylor, a former Society president and the author of numerous other books in history and biography, has produced an eminently readable and comprehensive history of the Society's first 50 years, and of the world of autographs during that period. History in Your Hand covers a wide spectrum of issues, from price escalation to the Autopen, from remarkable acts of altruism by Society members to the sinister forgeries of Mark Hofmann. The book describes in interesting detail the court cases in which the Society has defended autograph owners against attempts by government authorities to replevin "lost" manuscripts.
This book has benefited immensely from repeated readings by Priscilla Taylor, editor of Phi Beta Kappa's Key Reporter and an associate editor of the New York Public Library Writer s Guide to Style and Usage. The Society is grateful for her assistance. This fine narrative will serve many generations as a comprehensive account of the early years of the foremost organization devoted to the collection and preservation of History in Your Hand.
John D. Haskell