Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Treasures Crop Up in the Most Unlikely Places

Many years ago while strolling through a local swap meet with two of our four daughters, Katie and Kelly, I happened to stop in front of a blanket full of books. Being an avid reader, as all explorers tend to be, the compulsion to stop and pore over the materials was too hard to resist. I spoke to the kindly older gentlemen who was selling the books a bit about this and that while lifting one book and then another turning a page here or there. After a moment my eyes landed on Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis and of course being a fan of this particular writer I nonchalantly hefted the work up into my hands and carefully opened the front cover. To my surprise, and later my delight, I saw a very strange and telling inscription from the author.

my dear commissioner, I do so hope that you will make a reasonable America  
Sam Dodsworth per secy Sinclair Lewis

I felt my hands start to tremble a bit when I realized that I was not only holding a rare autographed book by Sinclair Lewis but one with a special message to someone who seemed to be important enough for the writer to take the extra steps in penning the note personally.

Did I happen to mention it was a 1929 First Edition?

I closed the text and as calmly as I could asked the fellow selling the book how much he wanted for it. He took a glance at the old blue green cover and responded. “How about fifty cents?” I tossed the man two quarters and stumbled away with my treasure cushioned beneath my right arm.

As life goes on so does time and the book rested in my bookcase for over a dozen years before I started looking into the history of the book late in 2012. It took time but the research was well worth the effort.
It seems the book belonged to Frances Perkins who received the autographed copy from Sinclair Lewis. They were great friends according to the historical records and after contacting the Frances Perkins Center in Newcastle, Maine (within the Brick House Historic District) it turned out the research was dead on.

What makes this book so exciting, besides it was an autographed First Edition by Sinclair Lewis, is the fact it was given to one of the most influential yet under-rated political figures of the early 20th century. At the time of the presentation of the novel in 1929, Ms. Perkins was the New York State Commissioner of Labor, having been appointed to that position by her friend and benefactor Franklin D. Roosevelt who was Governor of New York at the time. In 1933, Perkins was appointed by now President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the position of Secretary of Labor for the United States. Frances Perkins was one of the first women in the history of the United States who started breaking the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ to become the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. She later played a key role in assisting in writing up the New Deal legislation and in fact was involved in all aspects of a brand new venture for the United States, the Social Security Act of 1935.

This woman did it all and never once, per all available reports, shirked from her belief system, her loyalty to President Roosevelt or to the country she served. After President Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945 she stayed on with government service being assigned to the United States Civil Service Commission by then new President Harry Truman. She stayed on at that post until the death of her husband in 1952, when she retired from public service.

Frances Perkins is an American icon and to own a book that she had held, read, and had been given to her by the famous writer Sinclair Lewis made the novel all that much more valuable.

It was a treasure and like all treasures we decided to get an approximate value for it and after making the usual inquires through rare book sellers and the like came up with an estimated value of approximately $1500.

Not a bad investment for fifty cents.

But like many treasures it is not about the currency value but the historical value and with that in mind J & L will be donating the book to the Frances Perkins Center in Maine within the next month. The curator and members of the Center are very pleased and honored to have this piece of history on display. It is a piece of Americana which belonged to a very special American, a woman who was destined for greatness and showed it through her actions.

We felt very honored to have owned it for these many years and though missed will know it will be enjoyed by countless generations who owe so much to Frances Perkins.

For more information concerning Frances Perkins:

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