Friday, January 11, 2013

Library Receives Presidential Autograph

By Frank Boles  

For the past several months the Clarke has exhibited a loaned collection of original presidential signatures, linked to a display of the library’s presidential campaign biographies.  The exhibit will come to a close this month and during its run, I have tried to obtain the signature of President Obama, to add to the collection of campaign biographies.

The problem with this is that virtually all contemporary presidential signatures are “robos,” that is letters and other documents signed by a machine.  President John Kennedy installed the first robo machine in the White House, and every president since him has continued using ever more sophisticated examples of the devices. The machines allow presidents to honor the hundreds of requests the White House receives daily for presidential signatures, sort of.

Collectors, however, have turned to finding “authenticated” autographs, that is a presidential signature that someone can attest was really made by the president himself.  For example, the autograph on loan in our exhibit is a title page from the President’s book, The Audacity of Hope, signed during a book tour.

Over the past several months, I’ve been looking for that magic “authenticated” signature for the Clarke. I’ve tried writing elected officials, back channeling through friends and friends of friends, and pretty much everything else, without luck.  Over the holidays, however, the Clarke received a Christmas present from a CMU alumni who was among the people who knew the library was looking for a presidential autograph, and who recently happened to be in a room with the President of the United States. With a lot of help from our new library BFF, President Obama’s authenticated signature, on White House stationary, arrived in the mail, housed in a simple business envelope.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to both our benefactor who took the time to help us (an undoubtedly risked annoying a man who must be really tired of someone always asking him to “just please sign something for me, maybe on that White House notecard over there”) and the many friends who put me in touch with their friends. Eventually those contacts paid off!