Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Phoenicians, a JCB Director, and the Importance of Provenance

A book can be so much more than the sum of its words. Recently a cataloger flagged a book which has an very interesting provenance. The story connected to it was hidden before she included in a catalog record. It will soon be digitized because, in addition to its interesting provenance, it discusses indigenous American languages. Look for it soon in the John Carter Brown Library’s Internet Archive collection.

The book in question is David Bailie Warden, Recherches sur les antiquités de ‘Amérique septentrional, Paris, 1827, an abridged compilation of reports put out by the Académie des sciences de l’Institut royal. The researcher holding this book might be waylaid by the diagram of the petroglyphs on the Dighton Rock (markings on this rock found beside the Taunton River in Massachusetts have been variously attributed to indigenous sources or pre-Colombian visits from the Phoenicians, the Norse, the Portuguese [to Miguel Corte-Real], and even the Chinese! Cotton Mather included mention of the rock in his 1690 The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated).

Click on image to the below to see the plate.
Or the researcher might digress into examining the plans of Indian mounds or the Maya bas reliefs at Palenque. A researcher might even just wander off and examine the life of the author, a polymath of that particular stripe seemingly common to the nineteenth century—a correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, a scientist, mathematician, Presbyterian minister, school master, among other professions—who devoted his life to American historical bibliography and statistics after a brief, and not very successful, career as a diplomat.

BUT the researcher also might note the signature of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the flyleaf dated 1909. The astute observer might notice the FDR bookplate on the front cover.

A typewritten note pasted on the back page gives further information.

This volume bears the blue anchor bookplate of “Franklin Delano Roosevelt” and the note in his handwriting: “Franklin D. Roosevelt 1909 Lacking in most American libraries & little known.”

In 1938 the late President of the United States called a few friends to the White House and confided to them his plans of establishing his Library at Hyde Park, N. Y. The present owner of this volume sneaked back through New York, where most of his friends did not like F.D.R. But he did see the late Max Harzoff, who after expressing himself with characteristic vigor about the New Deal, gave this book away. Max acquired it at one time when F.D.R. was selling off a few books. [Signed] R.G.A. Janr 10, 1929.

R.G.A. is Randolph Greenfield Adams, Librarian of the William Clements Library, who was the father of Thomas Randolph Adams. Thomas Adams was the Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library from 1957-1983. The JCB received the copy as a gift from T.R.A. in 1967. In this one—rather rare and not very long—book, the researcher might discover myriad and fascinating levels to explore.

— See also Guide to the Microfilm Edition of David Bailie Warden Papers, Maryland Historical Society. Ms. 871