Historical society’s Presidential collection lacks only one signature

Official White House portrait of Pres. Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, painted by Everett Raymond Kinstler.

Official White House portrait of Pres. Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, painted by Everett Raymond Kinstler.

VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) – When the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society received an original signature from Barack Obama late last year, it nearly completed its collection of signatures from all of the 44 U.S. presidents with one exception – Ronald Reagan.

“The greatest rarity of the signatures is the Reagan signature because 99 percent of the letters that came out of the White House in Reagan’s administration were signed with electric pen,” said Dennis Latta, a society member. “Reagan was averse to signing letters and so he let the secretaries do it.”

Latta said society members have been in contact with U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar about getting a Reagan signature to complete the collection.

“The danger and difficulty is getting the original signature because so many documents are signed by facsimile,” he said. “They use the electronic pen over and over again. If you get a letter from the White House, chances are it’s not signed by the president. Chances are the secretary has gotten the pen out and signed it.”

The collection began as a hobby of Judge Curtis Shake, a Knox County resident who was an Indiana Supreme Court Justice and who served as a judge during the Nuremberg Trials in Germany following World War II.

Shake’s collection began when he received a personal letter in 1930 from President Herbert Hoover, commending him for his role in a Vincennes celebration of the 100th anniversary of the migration of Abraham Lincoln’s family from Indiana and Illinois.

Shake later received personal correspondence from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

From the beginning Shake traded for and purchased the rest of the original signatures for 40 years, getting every signature up to and including Richard Nixon’s. One of the documents had both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s autographs.

In 1973, Shake donated his collection, which included personal letters, land purchase documents and letters of appointment, to the society.

“(The Historical and Antiquarian Society) was revived in 1965 and Curt Shake was one of the founding fathers and he was interested in it,” Latta said. “And that’s why he donated the collection to the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society.”

Since then, the society has continued the effort.

“I think it became a challenge for every Historical Society administration to get the new president, and some more difficult than others,” Latta said.

The key to obtaining the signatures is having a personal connection that can get in touch with the president, Latta said.

It was Jim Corridon, former county Republican Party chairman and now the State Archivist, who helped get the George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush autographs. It was former speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives John R. Gregg of Sandborn, who was responsible for getting Bill Clinton’s signature when he visited Vincennes University during a campaign rally for his wife, Hillary Clinton, in April 2008.

And it was Dale Phillips, superintendent of the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park and also a member of the Historical and Antiquarian Society, who wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh asking about Obama’s signature.

A member of Bayh’s Evansville office brought the autograph, which was on a White House stationary, to Phillips during the re-dedication ceremony last October of the Clark Memorial following it’s renovation.

The collection was originally held at the Lewis Library at VU, but was later moved to a bank vault after society members became concerned about its rising value of the signatures.

A copy of the display can be seen at Tecumseh-Harrison Elementary School.


Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com

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