We spoke in the last column of the gravitational pull of collectors, and of a fitting home for the inevitable disposition of thematic treasure troves. One such hunter-gatherer, Lyall Squair of Syracuse, NY, collected in excess of 300,000 Teddy Roosevelt items over the course of four decades. It would take a separate essay to chronicle his motives and methods, but the upshot is that the Squair Collection was purchased by the New York State Library in 1998 for $200,000. Mr. Squair could have realized many times this amount by breaking the collection up or selling outright to a rival, but thanks to a firm sense of historical propriety (and years of patient coaxing from the Manuscripts and Special Collections Unit of the Library), it came instead to the heart of this great institution. I had a chance to survey these boxes before processing, and a quick sampling indicated that well over two-thirds of the material is what we define as ephemera.
A good portion of this ephemera is virtually worthless. A print ad showing Teddy Roosevelt selling bottles of ketchup, torn out of a 1970s magazine, is only of value in terms of demonstrating the enduring popularity of this figure (President Chester Arthur, for example, could not return from the grave to hawk some modern day product). A hundred years from now such material, which seems so common to us, may be of more interest. A handsome black and white Swedish poster from the turn of the century shows TR pitching Tiedemanns cigarettes. This has monetary and historical value right now, because the former asthmatic would never have advocated such an unhealthful practice, and because the poster is contemporary to his presidency and in very good condition. In our first column we described ephemera as “the heete of one daye,” that which is not meant to last longer than the temporary purpose for which it was created. Survivor ephemera renders any collection ten times larger, more interesting, and more unique than it would be otherwise.
The timing of this acquisition was fortuitous in another sense as well. We are undergoing a great resurgence in the appreciation of Teddy Roosevelt. A sickly lad, TR rose like a granite mountain to overcome every obstacle in his path. Though wildly popular in his day, there was a time not too long ago when the bluster and militarism of the man led to unfavorable revisionism. After decades of partisanship and scandal we now yearn for a president who combines robust decisiveness with incorruptible reformism (I do anyway, and this is a bully pulpit to say so). Not that he was perfect by any means, but read one of the many modern biographies on this scion of New York and you will be surprised and delighted on many fronts. One of Squair’s finds,The Most Interesting American (1915), carries an inscription from one W.F.C., “a Teddy man,” which reads, “John Hay once said in the Century Editorial Office, ‘If you don’t want to like Roosevelt, you’ve got to keep away from him.’”
Lyall Squair produced a catalog of his TR acquisitions, housed in a black three-ring binder with the title, “The Theodore Roosevelt Library, 1961-1995” above a silhouette of his famous hero. It is arranged by category, and subdivided further by author, subject, or date. The largest category consists of “BOOKS ABOUT TR.” Although our main concern is ephemera, these books cross over due to their service to the larger collection, their inscriptions, etc. Let’s plunge right in with some curious titles, such as The Teddysey (1907), Monkeys and Monkeyettes: A Reply to Ex-President Roosevelt (1909), the privately printed Who is Bashti Beki? (1912), and The Extraordinary Adventures of Theodorus Gunpowder (1915). Did TR: Hero to His Valet (1927) serve its author well? Here’s the seventy-two page play Bully in book form (1979), with an intro by TR IV, in which James Whitmore portrays the ex-president on stage (John Davidson was doing the same thing in 1998). The Rev. S. P. B. D. Bland penned the eleven page President Roosevelt and Paine’s Defamers (Boston: Boston Investigator Co., 1903). From this unfriendly-sounding title we learn that Squair has mixed booklets in with books. Journal articles too, for the very next entry is “Ambassadors at the Court of Theodore Roosevelt” in an author-inscribed reprint from the Mississippi Valley Historical Review (9/1955, Volume 42, No. 2). I find one I’d like to read, Camping with President Roosevelt(1907) by John Burroughs. Titles requiring further research such as the fifteen page Roosevelt‘s Dakota Ranches appear with notations like, “no place-no date-no publisher.” The Roosevelt That I Know: Ten Years of Boxing with the President pops up in an autographed, limited edition. Can’t imagine boxing with Roosevelt. Who Was Who 5000 B.C. to Date (1914) seems like a stretch. One edition of A Cartoon History of Roosevelt’s Career (1910) comes with forty-three lantern slides. Many of the book titles contain fragments such as, “strenuous life,” “stalwart companions,” “greatest living man,” “man of action,” “happy warrior,” “great heart,” and the apt “paradox of progressivism.”
And paradox he was. TR the ornithologist could record the hues of breast feathers one day and coolly blast a charging cape buffalo in the brain pan the next. His earliest work in the following section, “BOOKS BY TR,” is a four page folded sheet privately published at the age of nineteen and simply titled, The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, NY. Squair has a first edition and three distinct reprints, as well as the original proof manuscript! (Little did TR know he would be whisked off this same mountain range to assume the presidency after McKinley’s assassination.) Here’s another rare and serendipitous item. R. W. G. Vail was a former director of the New York State Library, and a famous antiquarian book collector in his own right. Squair found several limited editions about TR which Vail was involved with, including a four page item titled, President Roosevelt’s List of Birds Seen in the White House Grounds and About Washington During His Administration. As a local auctioneer is fond of saying, “Where ya gonna find one?”
On a more common note, if you can call numbered, limited, signed and inscribed editions common, there are several such copies of The Wilderness Hunter: An Account of the Big Game of the United States and Its Chase with Horse, Hound, and Rifle (1893), as well as a 1906 edition in Swedish. All the gorgeous, two-fisted first edition Scribner’s, Putnam’s, and Houghton Mifflin titles are here in multiple, such as Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914 et al), but how many collectors have bagged “Mammals Collected on the Roosevelt Brazilian Expedition” as it appeared on pages 559-610 in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (8/9/1916, Volume 35)? We find several editions of Rooseveltian Fact and Fable(1908 et al) by Annie Riley Hale, but only one of her slim supplement to this work, Bull Moose Trails (1912). The Winning of the West (1889 et al) requires two pages in the catalog, and includes a four volume Daniel Boone edition, limited to 200 copies, into which a sheet of the author’s original manuscript has been inserted! Not too shabby. The Rough Riders (orAlone In Cuba as one contemporary needled) was his most popular work, propelling its author onto the political stage. One 1899 first edition was inscribed by a surviving Troop H Rough Rider in 1964, and it rubs spines with a Signet Classic paperback edition from 1961 as well as a Classics Illustrated comic book of the same vintage. (The State Library happens to own the original typescript of this work, complete with TR’s handwritten annotations, donated as part of the great Gotshall Collection half a century ago.) We find many different editions and printings of the same title (e.g., at least seven variants of Hermann Hagedorn’s The Boy’s Life of Theodore Roosevelt). Of TR’s collected works, we find the Dakota, Elkhorn, Executive, Homeward Bound, Prairie, Sagamore, Statesman, Memorial, and National editions-some duplicated-running between fourteen and twenty-eight volumes, followed by the parenthetical notation, “Have many single volumes from other sets.” This is all-important evidence in the movement to have Mr. Squair’s wife considered for eventual sainthood. Rounding out this section on works by TR are wonderful collections of published letters to his children, diaries in book and serial magazine form, memorial books, and such flotsam as salesman’s samples, advance copies, publisher’s broadsides, etc.
“BOOKS ABOUT THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR” includes eight pages of sabre-rattling titles. “THE ROOSEVELT BEARS” chronicles the children’s book adventures of Teddy B and Teddy G in a beautifully illustrated series penned by Seymour Eaton and published by Edward Stern & Co. in the early 1900s. There’s a section on books by TR owned by family members, followed by another on books written by or about seventeen different Roosevelt family members, not to mention Fala the dog. These include reminiscences, historical works, poetry, novels, outdoor adventure, etc. One cookbook simply contains a recipe for spice cake submitted by Edith Kermit Roosevelt. Squair collected blue, red and green cloth copies of this item. Many of these works contain family bookplates, or have calling cards laid in, and many are signed editions. One is inscribed to Squair himself by Alice Roosevelt Longworth. The Ideals of TR, with a forward by his sister Corinne, carries her 1923 inscription to one Albert Shelby Le Vino. “Le Vino was a big T.R. collector” follows this catalog entry. Most charming of all is the nondescript Sea and Shore, bound in cover-worn red cloth. You wonder why it washed up on these sands and will open it to hear, “Christmas/74, To Corinne from her brother Thee Jr.,” penned when he was only sixteen.
“SPEECHES, REPORTS, PROCLAMATIONS, AND EXECUTIVE ORDERS” is fertile ground for those collectors with a more political bent. Lyall Squair has two copies of the earliest example, a twenty-three page report TR made to the U.S. Civil Service Commission entitled Upon a Visit to Certain Indian Reservations and Indian Schools in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas(Philadelphia: Indian Rights Association, 1893). You can trace his streaking political career from a Naval War College address in 1897, through his proclamation for slain President McKinley and his first message to both houses of Congress in 1901, and on through many pages of speechifying right up to the last here, a July 1918 appearance before the Republican State Convention meeting in Saratoga, NY. Many of the public addresses in this section are personal use copies (some signed), and include photographs, menus, floor plans, and seating lists. Some are surely scarce, such as an address to “negro and Indian students” at a Hampton Institute Decoration Day event, some are in shorthand, and one is even printed in Dutch from a speech delivered in Amsterdam. There are a dozen or so official documents signed by TR as governor of NY or president of the U.S.
Scandal does not rear its ugly head much in this catalog, either by dearth or design. TR was involved in a natural history dispute regarding “revealing and concealing coloration in birds and mammals,” in which some experts disagreed with his writings on the subject. Not too revealing or concealing compared to modern standards. There is a lengthy, privately printed 1914 bound transcript of testimony taken in Marquette, Michigan, Roosevelt vs. Newett, in which the latter is sued for publishing a libel which claimed TR was an alcoholic. A 1913 letter from his attorney, laid into this transcript, offers to reimburse the expenses of those witnesses who testified on TR’s behalf.
Rounding out the paper ephemera, we have additional lantern slides, stereoscopic slides, including fifteen of the Rough Riders, over sixty examples of sheet music, many bound, loose and mounted newspapers and clippings, and hundreds of post cards. Of this last group, many picture historical sites and events, some are boxed sets from his post-presidency African trip, but no connection is too tenuous. Any ship or hotel named after TR was fair game, and even an Ulaula fish post card (scientific name: Rooseveltia Brighami) felt the yank of Squair’s hook.
There are several interesting manuscript collections represented. The wartime papers of John D. Miley, an aide-de-camp to Major General William R. Shafter, the Commanding U.S. General in Cuba, contains some fascinating items, such as correspondence from the front, a list of authorized press artists and correspondents and the warmongering newspapers they represented, as well as his Rough Rider discharge paper “signed twice by Col. TR.” Correspondent Frederick E. Sturdevant followed the ex-president on his world travels, and saved many interesting paper items. Conservationists Clarence L. Parker and Charles Christopher Adams are responsible for seventeen boxes of preserved materials as well. This includes the history, early records, and publications of the Roosevelt Wild Life Forest Experiment Station at the NY State College of Forestry in Syracuse.
Next follows a fourteen page list of autographic material, going back to a business transaction record of payments by John and Jacob Roosevelt dated 1771! Many are important and/or official, but this body of letters and documents covers such sundry subjects as maple syrup, a subpoena, and the gift of a sewing table. There is also a nice group of political correspondence to and from Eugene Philbin in this autographic section, in addition to smaller groups.
A cornerstone of the Squair Collection was his acquisition of glass plate negatives from the files of the photographic firm Underwood and Underwood. We see TR at his desk, in a buckskin hunting outfit, at the head of his Rough Riders in Montauk Point, taking the oath of office for president, enjoying the rustic hospitalities of Pocatello, Idaho, speaking to cowboys from a decorated platform at the Alamo, planting a tree, watching golf and polo, hunting in Colorado, traveling in Cairo, and visiting his son Quentin’s WW I grave in France. One early negative is simply titled, “TR Speaking in the Sun.” If a picture is worth a thousand words, you can feel the warm sun on his live cheek again in an instant with an image like this in a way words would be hard pressed to convey.
This collection of fabulous glass plate negatives serves as a translucent stepping stone of sorts from books and paper to actual TR-related 3-D objects and artifacts of every description imaginable. It’s the dividing line where the NY State Library hands off to the NY State Museum, and where Dewey Decimal numbers give way to collection accession numbers. The National Portrait Gallery, with the aid of several historical institutions, organized an exhibit (TR: Icon of the American Century), which began touring in 1999. The printed catalog which accompanied this exhibition is a lavishly published guide to the various collections lent. In contrast, Mr. Squair’s typed list is simple, and its contents mirror the drive of the completist collector as opposed to that of the calculating curator with critical colleagues and limited exhibition space. Samples from both were on view when the national exhibition came to the State Museum, and I was able to observe the Museum staff selecting representative items for this pairing.
Going through the list of Squair TR artifacts in categorical order, with some examples, in one long roller coaster sentence, we find BANKS (“shoots coin into tree, bear pops out top, reproduction”); BOTTLES (imported tequila, after shave lotion, syrup, salad dressing); CALENDARS (various advertising calendars with TR quotes and photos 1899-1999); CAMPAIGN BUTTONS (trays full, and the cream of the crop in my opinion); CIGAR BOXES AND BANDS (five cent cigars with “TR head and shoulders in gold wreath on cover”); CLOCKS (“TR mounted on prancing horse”); COMMEMORATIVE PLATES (a 10″ McKinley/TR tin plate from 1899, a 1903 NYS Fair blue and white Wedgewood with a quote from his speech there); GAMES (TR and the Lions); JIG SAW PUZZLES (by Saalfield, Whitman, Milton Bradley, some never opened); KERCHIEFS (“TR and Fairbanks–1904–Protection to American Industries,” red, white and blue, 24″ high x 22″ wide); PATRIOTIC AND POLITICAL CHINA (mugs, mustache cups, sugar bowl); PLAQUES (bronze, hammered copper, profiles and quotes); PORTRAITS (a 1919 oil, prints, lithos, gravures); SCULPTURE (a large bronze bust by James Earl Frasier as well as lesser bronzes, a 1910 plaster African scene featuring “A smiling TR in hunting costume with a lion one each side of him,” a ceramic Lefton, a frosted glass bust); THE ROOSEVELT BEARS (all kinds of items bearing these famous bruins); TEDDY BEARS (a large amount, from the real thing and early teddy bear-related items to lots of plastic and plush kitsch such as Koosh Critters-he went way overboard here); TEACHING AIDS (most featuring all the presidents); and TRAYS (“blue ceramic scalloped portrait tile,” other early metallic trays). Under MISCELLANEOUS we find book ends, cake decorations, a nifty campaign siren, Canal Zone matches, candy molds, coasters, dishes and dish towels, Carry a Big Stick incense sticks, milk cartons, napkins, notebooks with TR on the cover, paper cups, paperweights, pencil sharpeners, place-mats, playing cards, a ring with “black stone set in gold with TR in raised relief with a light blueish colored stone,” silk thread, spoons, straight razors, tickets, U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt stuff (caps, pins and the like), period Teddy’s Teeth (“metal 3 ½” wide x 1 ¾” high red lips and white teeth”), a wooden armchair with woven seat (he sent this from Oyster Bay to his sister’s home in upstate NY because he liked to sit in it when he visited her), wrapping paper, wallpaper, and a woven tapestry (“Cotton 58″ x 55″. TR in a wreath in the center. Shields, eagles, scenes of the west-cowboys, cattle, hats, pistols, and dogs. Color brown, cream, red.”). At least it wasn’t on black velvet like Elvis.
Comparing the two collections, it’s clear that Lyall Squair excelled in his acquisition of books and printed ephemera-particularly with some of the rare and unusual items. As for the artifacts, many of the best examples were owned by Sagamore Hill or snapped up by the Smithsonian and other institutions long ago through donation or purchase. With the exception of a relatively few important and valuable pieces, many of Squair’s artifacts are more whimsical than valuable. (Their average age, for example, would date later than the average age of the paper items.) Squair might have secured the last four full bottles of TR Great American Buffalo Wing Sauce on this planet, but they only tell us what we already know about the man’s lasting popularity. Enough, then! I will let him rest in peace for awhile. As Cary Grant said to Eva Marie Saint under Mount Rushmore on Reel 6, Page 21 of the script for North by Northwest, “I don’t like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.” By: Shawn Purcell email@example.com