The Collector: Letter Perfect

<< Back to Robb Report, January 2007
  • Sheila Gibson Stoodley

 

THE ITEMA handwritten letter that Dwight Eisenhower wrote to his wife, Mamie, on February 15, 1943. Eisenhower, who was then commander in chief of the European theater of operations and supreme commander of the Allied forces in North Africa, penned the letter four days after the War Department promoted him to full general.

 

 

ITS SIGNIFIGANCE
In the letter, Eisenhower describes the difficulties of his post, writing, “I appreciate the confidence of my superiors—and feel damn humble in the face of it, but I do not feel that my major job is finished. I’ve just begun and though the prospect is, in some phases, appalling, I can do my duty only if I steel myself to the requirements and meet them to the best of my ability. When you remember me in your prayers, that’s the special thing I want—always to do my duty to the extreme limit of my ability.”

THE OWNER
Kenneth Rendell is a dealer in historic documents who keeps a gallery in Manhattan and an office in Natick, Mass. Rendell, who was born the year that Eisenhower wrote the letter, began dealing in coins at age 16 and later switched to documents. He has since handled items associated with each of the 42 past presidents (including the White House papers of Richard Nixon) and with countless other luminaries.

THE ACQUISITION
Rendell requested and received this and four other Eisenhower letters in the early 1990s from John Eisenhower in lieu of a commission for selling more than 200 letters that John’s father had sent his mother. Mamie had stored the letters in a shoe box in a closet at her Gettysburg, Pa., home.
Rendell says that Eisenhower’s handwriting reveals his emotions: His letterforms are unusually small and tight in the February 1943 document. “He didn’t write the letter for Mamie to read it. It’s what someone writes to get off their chest, not for someone else to read,” says Rendell. “That is an incredible letter. I never saw anyone write a letter like that. It’s so human.”

THE COLLECTION
Rendell displays a facsimile of the Eisenhower letter (he keeps the original in a vault) at the Museum of World War II, a 10,000-square-foot private museum that he established near Boston six years ago. Among its 6,000 items are the helmet that George Patton wore during his European campaign; a set of D-Day plans; Hitler’s telephone directory, open to the numbers for Goebbels, Göring, and the Berlin Gestapo; and a 1942 Sherman tank. “I was never sure where [the collection] was going,” Rendell says, “and I’m still not sure where it’s going.” However, Rendell is certain of the museum’s purpose: to commemorate the millions of people who lived through World War II as well as those who did not. “It is absolutely not about the glory of war,” he says, “and it’s not about heroes as they are normally thought of.”

From Around the Web...
Stanley Bard part-owner and manager of Manhattan’s legendary Chelsea Hotel
The art collection of legendary Chelsea Hotel manager Stanley Bard will hit the auction block…
Rothko’s No. 1, painted in 1949 as the first in a series of 12
No. 1 and Transom will hit the block as two of 50-plus lots at a Christie’s London sale in New York…
Heartfelt correspondence and stunning jewels are among many remarkable items set to cross the block...
The Beatles, Bob Marley, and Barbra Streisand all hit the auction block in this landmark sale…
A rendering of the new Christie's center in Beverly Hills.
Set to debut in April, the 5,400-square-foot center will feature two floors for sales and events…
More than 100 of Britto’s original works will be on exhibit and for sale…
Phillips auction house’s Robert Manley shares the secrets to building a successful art collection…
The ultra-exclusive writing instrument collection abounds with diamonds and gems that twinkle like...
AP/REX/Shutterstock
The lineup of heavy hitters include articles once owned by Evel Knievel, Babe Ruth, and Jim Brown…
UI/REX/Shutterstock
Although left on the block, the psychoanalyst’s signed oath and letter can still be bought online…