Each Christmas during his presidency Franklin Roosevelt engaged the United States Government Printing Office to produce a limited edition of his writing for distribution as gifts to friends, associates and family members. In 1944, he selected his D-Day prayer, shown here, which he recited in his radio address in which he informed the American public of the Normandy invasion.
This recent acquisition is a solemn reminder of one of World War II’s most decisive actions, and of previous trying times for this country. It’s also testimony to the president’s deep appreciation for books, printing and history.
The prayer appears in an imposing 18-point gothic-inspired font designed by Frederic W. Goudy in 1928. It opens with a striking red initial, and red guide lines mimic those medieval scribes relied on for precision in their work. These features confirm it as an emulation of early printing (which initially preserved characteristics of medieval manuscripts), and an edition that ranks among the best examples of the USGPO’s work under Roosevelt. The president inscribed this copy, no. 84, to his five-year-old grandson, John Roosevelt Boettiger.
According to one observer, Franklin Roosevelt “was fascinated by an attractive volume, the binding, the design, the print and the paper—particularly the rarity.” He discovered a special love of books as a Harvard undergraduate after a privileged but sheltered childhood which instilled a lifelong interest in stamp collecting. He later joined the ranks of bibliophile presidents on his arrival to the White House in 1933.
Book collecting mirrored a broader fondness for history. Roosevelt served a term as Hyde Park historian, and was an active member of several history organizations while maintaining personal interests in naval history, and the local histories of Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley.
A 1940 letter confirms that this even extended to preserving Dutchess County’s architectural traditions. This includes Hyde Park Post Office, which draws on John Bard’s eighteenth century “Red House” and the the Dutch Colonial style captured in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. Both buildings employ fieldstone, a material Roosevelt encouraged as a nod to local history.
In 1914, his passion led him to confess his “envy” to the New York Public Library’s newly appointed first keeper of manuscripts, Victor H. Paltsits. And the 1920s an interesting interaction with N-YHS proved how devoted a collector he was. Despite becoming a New-York Historical Society member as a 24-year-old, in 1906, Roosevelt couldn’t resist outbidding N-YHS at auction for a manuscript volume of the Minutes of the Council of Appointments, 1778-1779 in the spring of 1923. Fortunately, there were no hard feelings, and the volume’s publication in the Collections of the New-York Historical Society series followed, with a subsequent limited edition, printed exclusively for Roosevelt. The exchange with Roosevelt is especially interesting since it came in the midst of his recovery from his bout with polio as revealed in letters exchanged with N-YHS officials.
In case you’re wondering, the manuscript still resides in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park.
This post is by Ted O’Reilly, Curator of Manuscripts