The inauguration of the 45th president of the United States is a fitting time in which to compile a few fascinating facts about books written by presidents of the past and present.
Books authored by presidents are a popular choice with collectors, and for good reason. The depth and diversity of topics addressed in such books is simply staggering. Books penned by American presidents appeal to an immeasurable cross section of people. From die-hard bibliophiles and historians, to educators and even the most casual of readers, there is a shared interest in the memoirs from the Oval Office perspective. Below are a few interesting facts on these presidential books:
Fact #1: The first U.S. president put pen – likely a quill pen – to parchment paper well before he was elected to the nation’s highest office. President George Washington wrote “The Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation” before he celebrated his 16th birthday. The “Rules,” of which there are 110, are said to be an extension of a list compiled by French Jesuits in the late 16th century. President Washington reportedly copied the rules as part of a writing assignment. Washington’s version of the “Rules” was first published as a book in 1888, according to an article from The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington by Katrina Schoorl.
Tip #1: Collecting autobiographies written by presidents, especially modern-era presidents, is often a more affordable option if collecting presidential ephemera is the goal. The investment in a president-written book is often less expensive than presidential signatures, according to Ken Gloss, owner of Brattle Book Shop, in an article in The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles.
Fact #2: Many presidents opted to write memoirs or autobiographies, or assist in biographies about them. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter both took this approach. In addition, their prolific literary paths also included writing adventure tales or fiction, respectively. Roosevelt, reportedly the author of more than 30 books, wrote about the settlement of the Western U.S. in the multi-volume work “The Winning of the West.” In addition, Carter’s tale “The Hornet’s Nest,” was the first fiction novel written by a U.S. president.
Fact#3: Various U.S. presidents’ writings have achieved bestseller status, but only one has garnered a Pulitzer Prize. President John F. Kennedy was awarded the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his book Profiles in Courage, although for years there have been rumblings about the book having been written by a ghostwriter.
Tip #2: One way to enhance a collection of works written by U.S. presidents is to consider including books written by first ladies. In the 2015 blog post Collecting Rare Books and Autographs of American Presidents, from Bauman Rare Books’, author Rebecca Romney refers to books by Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Romney states, “Books signed or written by Jackie O. and other first ladies are naturally a rewarding path to explore as well.”
Fact #4: Thomas Jefferson, the man credited with authoring the Declaration of Independence, was also a serious bibliophile. At one time, his personal library included nearly 10,000 books. In a letter he wrote to John Adams, Jefferson stated, “I cannot live without books,” according to an article by Endrina Tay appearing on the Encyclopedia Virginia site. In addition to published letters, he completed one full manuscript, “Notes on the State of Virginia.” This work was published in 1785, with an initial run of 200 copies paid for by Jefferson, according to information on the Massachusetts Historical Society site.
A video from the Massachusetts Historical Society about the conservation of Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” can be viewed on YouTube.
Interested in viewing rare books by presidents and prolific authors alike? Take a look at this week’s Jasper52 books auction. You’re “bound” to find something to enjoy.