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Noted Signatures in Special Collections
by Reba Leiding

Signatures of famous people can be found in two books recently relocated to Carrier Library’s Special Collections.

One book, Ladies of Courage, signed by co-authors Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, was published in 1954 and obtained by the Madison College Library not long after. The book was in the library’s circulating collection for over fifty years before student Leighann Whitley discovered the autographs in it last November.

Signatures of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok from flyleaf of Ladies of Courage

The second book, a translation of De Re Metallica, an early work on geology by Georgious Argicola, was signed by Herbert Hoover. He, along with his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, translated the text from its original Latin and published the book in 1912. The book was part of the Sawhill collection of museum items; the Madison Art Collection which now owns the Sawhill collection recently gave the book to the library’s Special Collections.

Dean of Libraries, Ralph Alberico, received a call from Professor Anthony Eksterowicz of the Political Science department, to report that one of his students had found the signatures of Roosevelt and Hickok.  “It’s not unusual for libraries to have remarkable finds in their stacks, especially in larger collections,” said Dean Alberico. “We’d like to thank Leighann Whitley for bringing the book to our attention. ”

Leighann Whitley, a student in Professor Eksterowicz’s upper division seminar on first ladies, said she was researching possible links between medical technology and first ladies. “I was looking for notes or any writing in the book that would help me, when I noticed the signatures,” she said. The two signatures are centered on a blank flyleaf in the front of the book. Lorena Hickok’s signature is in bold, black ink, while Mrs. Roosevelt’s signature is in a paler, possibly faded blue ink. Both names are recognizable.

Professor Eksterowicz’s seminar is part of a larger research project he has been working on that focuses on the often overlooked American institution of First Ladies.  “This is the second time I have offered the seminar at JMU,” Professor Eksterowicz said. “I like to think of Leighann’s finding for the library as a logical outgrowth and one of the side benefits of the project. ”

The book, a collaboration between Roosevelt and Hickok, covers the range of women’s involvement in politics up to 1954, starting with the women’s movement in Seneca Falls, New York, and ending with a chapter on “How to Break into Politics. ”  One chapter, written solely by Hickok, offers a political profile of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Modern audiences may not be familiar with Lorena Hickok. She was a pioneering journalist who lived from 1893 to 1968, and was one of the first woman reporters to cover politics and major news stories such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. She met Eleanor Roosevelt during FDR’s 1932 presidential campaign, and soon became her close friend and mentor. Because of her close association with the Roosevelts, she left her job with the Associated Press and during the remainder of the 1930s worked for the White House reporting on New Deal policy. In 1940 she actually moved into the White House. At the time she collaborated on the book with Mrs. Roosevelt, Hickok was in poor health and partially blind, due to diabetes.

The Library does not appraise books; however, JMU Libraries’ Special Collections does provide links to online book appraisers and conservators on its web site, and a quick search by Special Collections staff revealed that the book may indeed be somewhat valuable. One book appraiser noted the book “is an uncommon title and rarely found signed. ”  Prospective values on appraiser web sites ranged from $250 for a copy with dust jacket, to $1,500 for a signed edition. The fact that JMU’s copy was heavily used, and in fact re-bound, probably limits its value.  Nevertheless, the Library has moved its copy to Special Collections, and plans to purchase a less valuable copy for its collection.

The other new acquisition to Special Collections, De Re Metallica, may be even more valuable. Originally published in Latin in 1556, it remained the standard text on mining for two centuries. The title is translated as “On the Nature of Metals,” but historically the word metal had a much broader meaning and referred to any mineral. The book covered everything known at the time about mining, including equipment, machinery, methods for finding ores, and contained numerous line drawings. Agricola was notable in that he rejected folklore and magic as ways of finding ores in favor of scientific methods.

The book is a large folio about two inches thick. On a front end sheet is found a notation in pencil saying “Presentation copy from President H C Hoover” possibly in Sawhill’s handwriting. On the opposite page is a signed dedication to someone whose name is illegible, followed by the line “with compliments of H C Hoover”. The book probably includes most or all of the line drawings found in the original Latin text. The book was bound in the old-fashioned way with the pages folded together and uncut; to read a book bound this way, the reader needed to slice pages apart with a knife. The pages in JMU’s copy remain uncut, which probably increases its value.

De Re Metallica Signature of Herbert Hoover

E-mail comments and questions to:
leidinrm@jmu.edu


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