The little ebook is a relic from the years after the Civil War, when autograph-crazy Americans collected signatures, a central constructing block of id earlier than fingerprinting, Social Security numbers or bank cards. A jeweler named Lafayette Cornwell collected extra signatures than most individuals did — 400 or so, beginning when he was an adolescent.
In time, eight presidents and a number of other first girls signed Cornwell’s autograph album. So did Mark Twain, Harry Houdini and Thomas A. Edison. For a long time, properly into his personal center age, Cornwell had a knack for turning up the place well-known individuals had been and persuading them to signal. Sometimes they did greater than that. Herman Melville wrote a quote from Shakespeare. Oscar Wilde quoted his personal poetry. John Philip Sousa wrote three measures of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Mary Todd Lincoln signed “Mrs. Abraham Lincoln,” which David Lowenherz, a collector and seller, mentioned was uncommon. After her husband’s assassination, she often simply signed “Mary Lincoln,” Mr. Lowenherz mentioned.
“Cornwell somehow ingratiated himself into so many different situations,” Mr. Lowenherz added. “It was unusual to get more than a signature. He must have said more than, ‘Mr. Melville, would you sign my book?’” Mr. Lowenherz plans to promote the Cornwell autograph album on Wednesday by way of the net public sale platform invaluable.com. The presale estimate is $30,000 to $35,000.
When Cornwell approached the actress Sarah Bernhardt, she made a requirement, to which he complied: She insisted that her signature be the final within the album, despite the fact that it was removed from stuffed when Cornwell boarded her non-public rail automobile in 1911. “I write the last!” she had introduced, in response to Cornwell, who spoke to The New York Times for a 1927 article concerning the album. She signed the final web page after which pasted that web page to the within again cowl. “No one must write after me.”
The album started within the 1880s and ended within the 1930s, shortly earlier than Cornwell gave it to a niece. How Cornwell organized the signatures within the ebook is as unclear as how he obtained so many — they aren’t in chronological order. Melville and the oil and railroad magnate Edward Stiles Stokes signed on the identical day, however 12 pages aside. President James A. Garfield’s son put his signature beneath his mom’s — at the very least 20 years after she had signed.
Mr. Lowenherz tried to unravel the mysteries of the album by creating spreadsheets monitoring Cornwell’s travels. But for all of the well-known individuals Cornwell encountered, he himself stays a query mark. “Here’s a guy who’s so undocumented that it makes his ability to show up and be allowed in to get these autographs all the more astonishing,” Mr. Lowenherz mentioned.
Still, Mr. Lowenherz traced Cornwell from Yonkers, N.Y., to Pueblo, Colo., the place Cornwell ran a jewellery retailer. Apparently his specialty was watchmaking. A 1903 journal revealed by a Colorado metal maker mentioned he had “without question the largest repair trade west of Kansas City.” The journal mentioned Cornwell was additionally the assistant chief inspector for 3 railroads.
This helped him get round. When the Statue of Liberty was devoted in New York in 1886, Cornwell was there — and the French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, who had designed the brand new monument, signed his album.
“He was a little like Zelig,” Mr. Lowenherz mentioned, referring to the nondescript title character in a 1983 Woody Allen movie whose “chameleon disorder” enabled him to resemble the individuals he encountered.
“How did he get into these places? What has been fleshed out is he obviously had an interest in politics. And it could build on itself: ‘President Grant signed it in 1880. Would you mind signing it?’ ‘Oh, sure, young man,’” Mr. Lowenherz went on. “But by the end of it, he wasn’t a young man anymore.”