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Recounting Roosevelt Albums

by Laura DeSimio

Volume 9, Issue 3
July–September 2000

Roosevelt Presentation Albums are great philatelic rarities. Produced during Theodore Roosevelt's administration and given away as favors by Third Assistant Postmaster General Edwin C. Madden, a political appointee, these albums contain proof impressions of United States stamps issued from 1847 to 1903. Because only a favored few received such gifts, the practice of producing and distributing special gifts was not popular with the public. As a result, the issuance of such albums was officially discontinued in January 1905. A new exhibit at the museum, Recounting Roosevelt Albums, 1903 - 1905, opens on July 26 and continues through February 23, 2001.

By the Numbers

Because of the nature of these presentations, it was never clear exactly how many albums were produced - it was once thought that as many as 400 albums had been distributed. Then, researchers determined that only 75 Roosevelt Presentation Albums were prepared. But this count, based on records from Madden's office, was wrong. More recent research has determined that 85 Roosevelt Presentation Albums were produced.

How is this difference explained? According to his files, Madden requested 75 complete sets of die proofs from the Bureau of Engraving & Printing on December 13, 1902. The Bureau of Engraving & Printing listed an order for the production of 85 sets of die proofs in their annual reports for 1902 and 1903. Looking more closely at postal service records, changes had been made that were not recorded in Madden's files. Weeks after his initial order, Madden realized that he had forgotten to include the Newspaper and Periodical stamps in his request and quickly added them to his order. Then, on February 4, 1903, Madden made a second change and increased the order to 85 complete sets of albums.

The Lucky Few

Roosevelt Presentation Albums were distributed between March 4, 1903 and January 21, 1905. The albums were given to influential friends and partisan connections of President Theodore Roosevelt, cabinet members, and federal dignitaries such as: Secretary of War Elihu Root, Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and Assistant Treasury Secretary Robert J. Armstrong. They were also given to acquaintances of Third Assistant Postmaster General Edwin C. Madden, including a hometown friend of Madden's who was a philatelist and stamp dealer in Detroit.

The first presentation album was sent by mail to former Postmaster General Charles Emory Smith in Philadelphia. Another was sent to Representative Claude A. Swanson, one of the few members of the Democratic Party to receive an album. Swanson served as the ranking Democrat on the 18-member House of Representatives Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads. He was also a member of Subcommittee Number 1, which legislated the Post Office Department's annual appropriation bill and other fund allocations.

Interesting Errors

Aside from their scarcity, the albums elicit interest because of their errors. For example, the 1847 stamp issues are represented by two sets of die proofs. Both sets are actually from the 1876 reprint dies, which would have been the only dies available to the Bureau of Engraving & Printing at the time of production in 1903. The 1847 proof was intentionally altered to make it look like an original. The example shown in the exhibit is from the Roosevelt Presentation Album of E.E. Clark, a personal friend of Madden from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Clark founded the Order of Railroad Conductors and had been a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

A former governor of Illinois, Shelby M. Cullom was a United States Senator when he received his Roosevelt Presentation Album. During his five terms in the Senate, Cullom was Chairman of the Committee on Expenditures of Public Money. Between 1885 and 1913, Cullom also served as a member of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Cullom's album is displayed open to the page of the first issue of 1861, which includes several denominations that are the wrong color and three designs that were altered to resemble die proofs of the premiere gravures.

To satisfy collector demand, many of the presentation albums were taken apart over the years, pages shaved in half, and die proofs removed. In attempting to remove individual die proofs from album pages, collectors soon discovered that some of the impressions were printed with highly fugitive inks. Excessive bleeding is one of the telltale signs of a Roosevelt die proof that has been soaked free from its gilt-edged card backing. Intact albums are rare, and there is no way to determine how many remain. The museum is fortunate to be able to display three complete and intact albums in this exhibit.

Roosevelt and the Mail

Theodore Roosevelt is mostly remembered as the 26th President of the United States and as the impetus for the Teddybear. However, he was a multifaceted man whose interests ranged from sports (including football) to international affairs, and who was also an accomplished historian, naturalist and conservationist. He was a voracious reader and writer - authoring more than 35 books. He communicated with his wide network of friends mostly by mail and his papers, housed in the Library of Congress, include over 150,000 letters and pieces of written correspondence.

Interestingly, the idea of distributing gifts such as specially-prepared presentation albums is out of character with Roosevelt's image as a man of the people and a trust-buster. During his administration, he sought to ensure fairness for the public against monopolistic business practices. Roosevelt's utilization of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the enactment of the Elkins Anti-rebate Railroad Bill is evidence of his legacy as a protector of regular, working people and displays his distaste for favoritism. However, the practice of giving favors such as the Roosevelt Presentation Albums did not dampen the public's enthusiasm for Roosevelt's presidency, and he swept both the popular vote and the electoral college vote when running for re-election in 1904.

Theodore Roosevelt has a further connection to the United States Postal Service, which relates to his ideal of extending fair business practices to all people. Recognizing public distrust of banks, he promoted a Postal Savings System, so that local post offices could become banking centers in communities that had no banks. Postal Savings Accounts were to serve individuals and small-scale depositors. Roosevelt's successor, President William H. Taft, championed the cause and the Postal Savings System was established in 1911. It was a popular program and the system was soon extended to over 5,000 post offices from its original 48 sites. The outbreak of World War I greatly curtailed shipments of funds overseas, and more deposits and fewer withdrawals at postal banks ensued. During the Great Depression, small savers turned increasingly to the Postal Savings System despite the large number of bank failures, and its patrons reached 2.5 million in number by 1935. Use of the Postal Savings System declined following World War II, when consumer confidence in banks and financial institutions was restored. The Postal Savings System was formally discontinued in 1966.

We can thank Theodore Roosevelt, not only for Teddy Bears and the Panama Canal, but also for his contributions to philately and postal history. This exhibit was guest curated by Representative Joseph R. Pitts from the 16th District of Pennsylvania. Representative Pitts is an avid stamp collector and has previously curated exhibits for the National Postal Museum such as "Mail to the Chief," an exhibit highlighting Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his stamp designs. Lenders to the Recounting Roosevelt Presentation Albums exhibit include Myron Kaller and W. Curtis Livingston. Objects from the museum's collection on display includes an intact album donated by Walton and Ruth P. Kling.