Hooked on Collecting
Historians owe more to collectors than we usually recognize. Collectors are men and women of purpose and passion. They fall in love with a person or category or theme. They pursue and accumulate books, papers and artifacts—the memorabilia that symbolize and illuminate the objects of their affection. In doing so, they enrich the historical record and very often rescue evidence that might otherwise have vanished down the memory hole. -Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Season’s Greetings from the White House began, as it should have, in Washington DC, many years ago. It was pushed into being, as it should have been, by an inveterate collector, my husband Dr. Ronald Seeley. It was written because it should have been written—but wasn’t. If you can’t understand how I ended up being the one to write it, you don’t know what it is like being married to an avid collector.
The first item he purchased on a medical convention trip in the spring of 1985 to the nation’s capital was a red velour presentation folder containing the portrait of George Washington. A gift from President and Mrs. Nixon to a White House employee, it eventually found its way into the political memorabilia shop where Ron found it. When he showed it to me that afternoon, he was excited; he was enthusiastic; his mood was contagious. Soon, I too, was learning everything that I could about Presidential Christmas cards and gifts, and our quest began in earnest.
Along the way, we had the good fortune to meet Raleigh DeGeer Amyx of American Heritage Autographs and Collectibles. We were frankly overwhelmed by his careful preservation and beautiful presentation of American historical artifacts; his dedication to his work inspired us to continue our pursuit. Within a short time, we had acquired a Christmas gift book signed by William McKinley in 1900, Christmas cards and gift prints signed by many other later Presidents including the rare Creche Card signed by President and Mrs. Kennedy just days before the assassination—and Presidential gift items made of wood, pewter, sterling silver, leather, glass and even yarn.
In time, the Seeley Collection gained us an invitation to the White House from its curator, Rex Scouten. He was especially interested in our early collection prior to President Eisenhower; Ron and I were interested in learning from Mr. Scouten the history of many of our acquisitions. Our discussion of the facts and figures uncovered many discrepancies. Concerned about the accuracy of the information in circulation, Mr. Scouten stated: "Someone should write a book to the set the record straight." Ron was the one who knew that I could write such a book; the rest is history.
While I was collecting historical facts about Christmas at the White House, the Collector-in-chief was engrossed in gathering historical Christmas artifacts of the President and First Lady. Dr. Seeley has collected various things since starting as a boy growing up in Nebraska: Baseball cards, a coin collection, an extensive eye spectacle and eye wash cup collection, a fossil and quartz collection from the mountains of Colorado and an oil lamp collection from Israel.
That is how collecting historical artifacts began in the Seeley household. It has been a life changing journey and very rewarding as we shared this passion for the president’s Christmas cards.
Over the next few months I plan to start a Collector’s Corner on my website www.WhiteHouseHolidays.com to share stories about items in the Seeley Collection and offer some for sale. You may be interested in becoming a collector or expanding your own collection.
Let’s get started, what do you collect?