Book Collector: A Tale of Two Ladies

By John E. Schlimm II

If you’ve been following my column and articles in Autograph over the years, you’ll know that I have a special affinity for political spouses, namely first and second ladies of the United States. So when I discovered that two former first ladies would be trekking through Washington, D.C. within 24 hours of each other, a fun autograph adventure was set in motion.

Thursday, May 6, 7:30 p.m.: As the first first lady of the 21st century, Laura Bush’s eight years were dominated by the transformative devastation and aftermath of 9/11, including a controversial war and the pressures of watching her husband become one of the most reviled figures to ever inhabit the Oval Office. However, while George W’s ratings seemed to plummet, Mrs. Bush’s remained consistently high. She was ever a beacon of light in a polarizing administration.

Normally reserved and private, the former first lady is remarkably frank and revealing in her new memoir, Spoken from the Heart. Several days after the book was released I learned that Mrs. Bush would be doing a swing through Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. on the first leg of her national book tour. I attended her appearance at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, which was part of The Smithsonian Associates lecture series moderated by critically acclaimed journalist Cokie Roberts. Sharply dressed in a black pantsuit, Mrs. Bush oozed classic Texas charm and wowed the packed auditorium. She recounted meeting her future husband for the first time, what life was like in the harrowing hours and days immediately following the 9/11 attacks, and the car accident she caused that claimed the life of one of her dearest high school friends.

All the books were pre-signed ahead of time and I purchased my autographed copy before the event. Although very convenient, this arrangement always makes me a little leery. I’m left to wonder: Are the books authentically signed by the author or are they secretarial proxy signatures, such as when an autopen is used?

I first met Mrs. Bush in New Hampshire during the 2000 presidential campaign where I secured several autographs from her. I had acquired autographs during her tenures as the first lady of Texas and of the U.S. So, I undertook a little study of my own—examining all the signatures in my personal Laura Bush collection against my newest one. It is in my humble opinion that the newest signature is indeed authentic. If you didn’t get to catch up with Mrs. Bush on tour, you’re in luck! She is a generous through-the-mail signer, often replying with inked bookplates if you don’t want to send the entire book.

As a personal collector and fan of first ladies, and for my growing library of signed books by members of presidential and vice presidential families, I hope this is only the beginning of a long writing career for Mrs. Bush (Her first book was Read All About It, written with daughter Jenna). And just a quick FYI: President George W. Bush’s new book, Decision Points, will be released on November 9, 2010. There will be a first printing of 1.5 million hardcovers, as well as e-book and audio formats.

Friday, May 7, Noon: Still excited from having attended the Laura Bush event the night before, on Friday morning I headed to the National Portrait Gallery in downtown D.C., which served as the setting for a presentation and book signing by former first lady Rosalynn Carter in support of her fifth book, Within Our Reach. During her time in the White House from 1977 to 1981, Mrs. Carter took on a very public role, even sitting in on Cabinet meetings where she was outspoken on such issues as mental health and the Equal Rights Amendment.

Mrs. Carter, who turned 83 on August 18, was surprisingly elegant and reserved in person. Wearing tinted glasses and a simple green sweater set, she emerged to an intimate audience of about 60. No pre-signed books this time. I purchased my copy of Within Our Reach in the museum gift shop before the event and following Mrs. Carter’s brief remarks and a Q&A, I proceeded to the line where eventually I watched as Mrs. Carter inked my copy in her small, carefully rendered script. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for personalizing the books, which is the advantage of sending books to be signed when authors have more time for inscriptions. But it was guaranteed to be authentic!

Like Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter has always proven to be a generous through-the-mail signer, whether the request is for an autographed portrait or a signed book. I have learned that while both President and Mrs. Carter will often reply by having a signed bookplate placed in the book you send, they do not normally send a signed bookplate alone. Therefore, in this case always send the book to the Carters along with any personalizing instructions.

As with Mrs. Bush (and all the other living first ladies), I hope to see many more future books from Mrs. Carter. Incidentally, President Jimmy Carter’s new book, White House Diary, was released September 2010. The book contains private diaries from his term as president.

Tips for Attending Book signings

Be prepared! Always call the bookstore or venue ahead of time to inquire about any special instructions for a particular book signing. Make sure you ask the following:

1. Are tickets needed to secure your place in line at the event? This is usually the case for big authors or other famous individuals. A pre-determined number of free tickets are then available for pickup ahead of time.

2. How long will the signing last, and when will the store or venue be open for the line to begin forming?

3. Is there a limit on how many books you can have signed?

4. Will the author be signing only the new book, or can you bring other books by them to be signed?

5. Do you have to purchase the book at the store or venue, or can you bring your previously purchased copy of the book?

6. Will the author only be signing books, or can you also bring other items, such as photos and memorabilia, to be signed?

7. Can you take pictures at the event?

Finally, to document the authenticity of your signed book, if possible, take a picture of the book being signed and keep any flyers and tickets from the event.

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