If you collect something long enough, your name gets out there. Whether you collect coins, stamps, glassware or political items as I do, word gets out there over time that you are the person to go to if someone finds an unusual item.
Although I specialize in Theodore Roosevelt, I often hear from people who have all types of political items for any candidate for sale. Or, as in this case, a friend told me about a local woman she had heard about who had an unusual political item. The item? President Grover Cleveland’s Bible.
I contacted the woman, who luck would have it, was less than 2 miles from my office. We decided to meet at a Dunkin’ Donuts the next day.
I decided to do a little research before the meeting. I was fortunate to have met President Cleveland’s grandson George Cleveland at the 2010 American Political Items Collectors National Convention in Buffalo, N.Y. A friend suggested I call him now.
George was intrigued when I talked to him, but he assured me that the family was still in possession of the Bible his grandfather used to be sworn into office twice. However, that’s not to say he couldn’t have had more than one Bible.
When I met with the Bible’s owner the next day, she told me that she had rejected offers for the Bible in the past because she wanted it to go to the right person. She also said she had been in contact with a Grover Cleveland museum and they had no interest in the item. The first red flag went up. Why would a museum have no interest?
As the woman opened the box the Bible was in, I noticed how horrible the condition was. The spine was falling apart, the leather cover was nearly gone. It was held together by strings. As pages were carefully turned, pieces of dry-rotted paper flaked off in our hands. She told me it was in this condition when she found it as a kid in a Florida attic of a house her dad was renovating. She had carefully kept this 1869 Bible for all these years.
We turned the pages until we came to the family tree pages between the old and new testaments. She first showed me the deaths page where it listed several members of a family named Bonnel. The woman said she had done some research, and she was sure the Bonnels were related to the Cleveland family, but she didn’t know how. There were no “Clevelands” on the page, nor any Fulsoms, his wife’s maiden name. Another red flag.
Then, we turned to the “births” page. It was completely blank, except for a few lines at the very bottom, so far down on the page that the writing overlapped the design around the edge of the page. Here, someone had penned: “Sept. 9th 1893 a daughter born to Pres Cleaveland at Washington the first child born in the White House.”
I mentioned to the woman that if the Bible belonged to the president, or even his wife, why wouldn’t they say “our child” and not “President Cleaveland’s” child? And why would they leave an entire page blank to squeeze this news down on the bottom edge? I hadn’t even noticed at that point that “Cleaveland” was misspelled. A third red flag goes up.
She brushed all these things off, convinced she had a presidential Bible worth a fortune.
It’s sometimes hard to rationalize with people like this who have their mind made up. I’ve learned through the years that they don’t want to hear facts, no matter how much sense they make. I simply now tell them that the item really isn’t something for me. In this case, I sent her George Cleveland’s way, and he was gracious enough to talk with her. I doubt her mind will be changed, but who knows.
What people don’t realize is that prior to the Watergate years, people were less cynical about their presidents, and many would even keep their photos and mementos of them in their homes. When the first baby was born in the White House in 1893, it would not have been unusual for someone to have noted that in either a diary, or in this case, a family Bible.
Would people today have noted such an event? Perhaps, but most probably not in a family Bible but rather on Facebook, or Twitter.