Classic Literature | 13 January 2016Rare Discoveries: Autographed JFK Book Found for $4 Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Serious book collectors will spend years combing through stores and sales, looking for rare editions of literary works. Sometimes, though, the means of acquisition can be just as exciting as the rare book find itself. in Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places, author Rebecca Rego Barry recounts some of the most fascinating – and serendipitous – ways book collectors have stumbled rare collections, editions or autographed copies. One fun story from her collection is about a book signed by President John F. Kennedy with a $4 price tag. Here’s just one of Barry’s crazy stories: Swap Meet Yields JFK-Signed Book Presidential-Signed Material—letters, ephemera, books—has always been and very likely always will be valuable. There are collectors out there who single-mindedly gather every US president’s John Hancock (but, of course, not John Hancock’s, since he was president only of the Second Continental Congress), just as there are those who concentrate entirely on signers of the Declaration of Independence—but that’s quite an expensive pursuit. Knowing this, antiquarian bookseller Scott Emerson of Southern California, an inveterate “swap-meeter” who sells books online and at four major book fairs on the West Coast each year, has a personal axiom regarding books written by presidents: always check inside. “If a book is written by a president, and I know it was published while they were still living, I always look for a signature. And certain presidents are pretty good about signing books. I’ve had a lot of Richard Nixon, a lot of Gerald Ford, a few others,” he said. It’s a rule that has been in place at least since the late 1980s, when he was perusing his usual Escondido swap meet. “The day at the swap meet was just one of my regular days. . . . I’m one of those dealers who really likes to get out into the field, into the swap meets, thrift stores, estate sales. There are a lot of advanced dealers that stay away from that completely,” he said. Emerson approached an older man who had set up a few tables of miscellaneous items, a few books, nothing terribly interesting. But he did have a copy of John F. Kennedy’s 1956 book, Profiles in Courage, and of course, Emerson had to pick it up and look. “I was a little shocked,” he recalled. He had never found a signed Kennedy before, and this one wasn’t just signed, it was inscribed to an acquaintance. Profiles in Courage is a Pulitzer Prize winner too (and just as there are collectors of presidential autographs and presidential books, there are those who primarily pursue Pulitzer Prize winners). Kennedy had written about political courage before, in his book Why England Slept (1940), based on his Harvard senior thesis. In 1952, while on leave from the Senate and recovering from back surgery, he took up his pen again to chronicle the courage of eight senators whom he deeply admired, including John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft. Most critics agree that Why England Slept is the better-written book, but Profiles is nonetheless better known. Emerson asked the dealer how much the books were going for, and the man replied $4 each, adding that the one in Emerson’s hands was signed. “The shocking part is that he thought it was signed—by Kennedy—and it was! And he still wants to charge four dollars,” Emerson said. The book later sold at auction for more than $2,000, which is not at all surprising. An inscribed copy of Profiles is not terribly uncommon at auction—one pops up at least every year. Depending upon edition, condition, and the prominence of the person to whom it is inscribed, recent prices have ranged from $2,000 to $6,000. Kennedy is just one of those perennial favorites. In 2013, historical documents dealer Nathan Raab of The Raab Collection wrote in Forbes about why Kennedy continues to be such a draw for collectors. Aside from an enduring legacy, Raab enumerated five reasons: to recapture the optimism of the era; to memorialize the assassination; to revel in the Camelot legend; to preserve Cold War documents; and to get a taste of scandal (think Marilyn Monroe). When asked about Kennedy-signed books specifically, Raab said, “In my experience, one of the most common forms of JFK’s signature is in such books, and we are often wary of secretarial signatures and forgeries. Kennedy’s autograph is not too rare, although finding anything of importance signed by him is hard.” Collecting autographs and collecting signed books are similar hobbies, and they share a common pitfall: the specter of falsity, from secretarial hands to “autopen” signatures to outright forgery. It is best not to gamble on an autograph unless one is well versed in the finer points of the figure’s handwriting style and pen and ink color of choice, not to mention his or her birth and death dates. In the book Warmly Inscribed: The New England Book Forger and Other Book Tales (2001) by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, autograph dealer James Lowe is quoted as saying, “At the last New York book fair, there were four signed copies of Profiles in Courage for sale—we’re talking about books that were priced at between four thousand and seven thousand dollars— and not one of the signatures was Kennedy’s.” His contention was that authentication for autographs is always necessary, and that most general rare-book dealers are not equipped to do that. It’s a fair point, although the digital advances of the past decade have remedied this to some extent— “real” signatures can be located in library and museum collections online for side-by-side comparisons, and scans can be sent to experts for second opinions via e-mail. For all of the downsides of bookselling in the Internet Age, the ability to conduct at least preliminary analyses of autographs in signed and inscribed books with such immediacy is one of the benefits. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: RaFeed your inner bibliophile with this volume on unearthed rare and antiquarian books. Few collectors are as passionate or as dogged in the pursuit of their quarry as collectors of rare books. In Rare Books Uncovered, expert on rare and antiquarian books Rebecca Rego Barry recounts the stories of remarkable discoveries from the world of book collecting. Read about the family whose discovery in their attic of a copy of Action Comics No. 1–the first appearance of Superman-saved their home from foreclosure. Or the Salt Lake City bookseller who volunteered for a local fundraiser–and came across a 500-year-old copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Or the collector who, while browsing his local thrift shop, found a collectible copy of Calvary in China–inscribed by the author to the collector’s grandfather. These tales and many others will entertain and inspire casual collectors and hardcore bibliomaniacs alike. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.