Cover and title page of The Book of the Presidents, B00193.
Mary Baker Eddy’s celebrity made her a target for many solicitations. The Book of the Presidents is one interesting example of this. Hundreds of documents in the Library’s collections tell us about the negotiations and discussions; it’s a story with many twists and turns.
In May of 1904, Eddy received a letter from Robert E. Doan, a lawyer, a former Congressman and Secretary of The National Biographical Society (NBS), located in Washington, D.C. He wrote, “…it has been decided, by your kind permission, to reproduce a Portrait and Sketch of your noble and illustrious career to appear in General Charles H. Grosvenor’s National Memorial ….”1 Mary Baker Eddy was to appear in a book by Grosvenor tentatively titled The Book of the Presidents and Representative Americans. One of Eddy’s secretaries, George Kinter responded to Doan with interest, but felt more information about the book was needed.
Neither Kinter nor Eddy knew that at this point The Book of the Presidents had been around for about four years; it was a failed publishing venture, designed as an expensive gift book, to be paid for by subscription. In fact, as of 1903 it appeared that none of the one thousand copies had even been bound, though a number had been promised to subscribers. In February of 1903 the author of the book, Charles E. Grosvenor, issued a statement to the press saying he had no connection to the sale of the book. He had entered into a contract with A.P.T. (Abram Peter Turner) Elder in 1900 to write the sketches of the Presidents. In early 1904 the Trow Printing and Bookbinding Company had sued Elder and the National Biographical Society for lack of payment for the printing and binding of The Book of the Presidents. (It wasn’t until some months later that Eddy’s staff discovered how unsavory A.P.T. Elder was. “… the man Elder, I was informed by the Chief of P.O. Inspectors this morning, is an ex-penitentiary inmate, & will steal anything he can.”)2 The books were bid on and secured by Robert E. Doan, the man who wrote Eddy in May.
Unaware of this history, Eddy and her staff decided to go forward and purchase the book; Alfred Farlow, Manager of the Committee on Publication, was to meet with the publisher’s representative, as Eddy was busy preparing for the “approaching Annual Meetings of her Church.”3 The initial subscription was for a $250 volume, which today would be about $6,300.
Later, in June of 1904, Eddy learned there were delays in getting the draft for her biographical sketch (written by A.P.T. Elder) to her. Kinter also requested sample pages of the book, and some were sent. In July a representative came to Boston to see Farlow, and brought the biographical sketch of Eddy for editing. Farlow wrote to Eddy about the sketch: “…while it has many good features, it is not altogether satisfactory to me.”4 Elder’s written sketch was scrapped; Eddy asked Judge Septimus J. Hanna, former Editor of the Christian Science periodicals, to write the piece. In August Eddy started to prepare an autograph letter, for reproduction in the book, and to pick a photograph to also be included.
By September 1904 Kinter had sent Eddy’s autograph letter to Doan for inclusion in the book. Eddy also asked the Christian Science Board of Directors to have them purchase the book for her: “Buy the book for me. But first write to the proper authority that you desire to do this and have asked Mrs. Eddy to allow you to do it.”5 And Doan apologized for the delays: “I … expect to do for her what I have not so far done. I will personally see that all matters of this, the biographical sketch of MS. of Judge Hanna’s – pictures are just as they should be.”6 The hope was to get the book to her before the holidays in 1904.
It wasn’t until June 17, 1905 that Eddy received the finished heirloom volume. An article in The Boston Herald celebrated this: “‘The Book of the Presidents‘ might well be styled a compendium of all that is noble in the art of book-making in this and past ages. No detail has been omitted to make this beautiful production the acme of perfection.”7
This great work is of royal quarto size [16.5 inches x 12.5 inches], with gilt top, and elegantly bound in full crushed French red levant. It contains about two hundred pages, enriched by twenty-seven full-page engraved portraits, thirty-five specially designed and hand-illuminated pages, and a large number of finely executed photogravures. The title page is a work of art, and is wrought by hand. Two coats of arms, belonging to Mrs. Eddy’s ancestors, have been exquisitely painted upon the white morocco doublure. The cost of the volume was $1,000 [$25,161.00 today]. The handsome binding, both within and without, is beautifully inlaid with colored leathers, and exquisitely hand-tooled with classic designs in gold. The covers are lined with leather inserted panels and watered-silk end leaves.8
Mary Baker Eddy had a deep appreciation for our 16th President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). She admired him and had a few mementos of him in her home at Chestnut Hill, MA.Eddy was pleased with the book; in a thank you letter to General Grosvenor she was effusive: “It is an apology for the past, a power in the present, a promise for the future.”9 But it appears that the volume in the Library’s collection is one of a kind. Of the one thousand copies printed (and not bound) in 1902, only a small number-possibly less than one hundred- were even completed and sold. We believe this is the only copy with the Eddy photo and biography inserted. Eddy and her staff were deceived by the publisher. The Book of the Presidents was not “one more recognition of her place as the great religious leader of the age,”10 but it is an exceptional and elaborate example of early twentieth century bookmaking.
- SF – Eddy, Mary Baker – Tributes To – Correspondence – Re: The Book of the Presidents – May – August 1904.
- Alfred Farlow to Mary Baker Eddy Eddy, 16 July 1904, IC 6.
- Eddy to the Christian Science Board of Directors, 22 September 1904, L00402.
- Robert E. Doan to George Kinter, 21 September 1904, IC 663.
- “Rare Volume for Mrs. Eddy…” The Boston Herald, 27 June 1905.
- Eddy to General Charles H. Grosvenor, 05 July 1905, L12902.
- “Rare Volume for Mrs. Eddy…” Christian Science Sentinel, July 1, 1905.