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William McKinley

Ida Saxton McKinley

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William McKinley (1843-1901), 25th President of the United States, 1897-1901, and Ida Saxton McKinley (1847-1907), First Lady of the United States, 1897-1901.  Rare set of matching Executive Mansion cards, signed William McKinley and Ida S. McKinley.  With original typed letter signed by George B. Cortelyou (1862-1940), one page, 4½" x 7", with integral leaf attached, on stationery of the Executive Mansion, Washington, [D.C.], January 16, 1899, and the original envelope.

This may be a unique set of Executive Mansion cards.  Ida McKinley's autograph is one of the rarest among First Ladies.  Mrs. McKinley suffered from epilepsy, was totally dependent on her husband, and therefore had little public role as First Lady.  Yet the accompanying cover letter from presidential secretary George B. Cortelyou shows that it was Mrs. McKinley who was responsible for sending these cards to a collector.  Cortelyou's letter, dated January 16, 1899, reads, in full:  “Mrs. McKinley has been pleased to comply with the wish expressed in your courteous note of the 4th instant, and in accordance with her request, I have much pleasure in sending you herewith the desired autographs of the President and herself."

While President McKinley's autographic material is easy to obtain, Mrs. McKinley's is correspondingly difficult.  The seminal work by Walter Ostromecki, Jr., The First Ladies of the United States:  An Historical Look at Each and Their Autograph Materials 1789-1989, ranks Mrs. McKinley's autographs "in the top seven of rarity of all First Ladies."  Her autograph is most usually found in her free franks on mourning stationery in the years following the assassination of President McKinley, and those are far from common:  Ostromecki says that only upwards of 50 of her free franks are known.  

A genuinely signed Ida McKinley Executive Mansion card is rarer yet.  In his landmark study for The Manuscript Society, Andreas Wiemer concluded that only 30-35 of them may exist.  He demonstrated that President McKinley actually signed some of the known Executive Mansion cards and other items, including fully handwritten letters, bearing Mrs. McKinley's purported signature.  One of these cards, properly described as signed by President McKinley for his wife, was recently offered at auction.  Click here to see Wiemer's study.

These cards date from President McKinley's first term, as evidenced by Cortelyou's letter.  There are no known cards dated from President McKinley's short second term. 

Cortelyou was with the President in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901.  He disliked public receptions because he thought them security risks, and he tried to persuade McKinley to skp a reception in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition.  McKinley replied, Why should I?  No one would wish to hurt me. McKinley had been greeting visitors at the reception for only about 10 minutes when an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, who had concealed a pistol in a handkerchief wrapped as a bandage around his hand, shot him twice.  McKinley, who stayed on his feet supported by his aides, whispered, My wifebe careful, Cortelyou, how you tell heroh, be careful."  One of McKinley's wounds was superficial, but the bullet from the other one pierced McKinley's abdomen and lodged in the muscles in his back.  Doctors could not find that bullet, but at first the President seemed to regain strength.  By September 13, however, McKinley began deteriorating, and he died from infection and gangrene on September 14, 1901.

Cortelyou went on to hold public office himself and thus is collectible in his own right.  He served as the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Postmaster General, and Secretary of the Treasury during the administrations of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

With Cortelyou's letter, these cards have unassailable provenance.  Both have mild toning and rippling due to mounting remnants on reverse and are in fine condition.  The cover letter has one horizontal mailing fold and is in very fine condition.  The envelope has postal markings and soiling and is very good.




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