Adopt an Antique!

I’m just back from the Brimfield Antiques Fair, the largest in the country. Held three times a year, it’s a truly amazing event, spread out along three miles of bucolic road in Brimfield Massachusetts, with thousands of vendors filling acres of open fields with tents. This year, I was able to find some really wonderful pieces for the Restoration, and it was my first thought to show you a few of them here. But then it occurred to me, rather than just share pictures, why not give you, our supporters, the chance to participate directly in completing the Restoration?  (We really need your help, our coffers are near empty again!) So an idea was born: from now on, I’ll regularly post notices of new acquisitions here on the blog.  These pieces will then move to a new section on our website, “Adopt an Antique” where they will wait exspectantly until some kind soul takes them under their wing. Once they find “a home,” their generous sponsor will be permanently memorialized on our website, as well as in a bound printed book that will reside in the Suite. It’s a great way for you to help us out, and have some fun at the same time. And what a nice present or commemoration for a friend or loved one! Best of all, you can keep coming back for more!

So here are our first batch of “children,” wide-eyed and waiting for your attentions!




This is a spectacular piece, quite rare, in the Oriental ball and stick style so popular in the late 19th century. Called a corner chair, its name is something of a misnomer: it’s armless design was originally inspired not to fit the architecture, but rather so that gentlemen wearing a sword – on either side – could sit down without taking it off.  Nonetheless, these chairs became popular features for odd nooks, and we have just such a one in FDR’s bedroom.



SIZE: 22 X 38″


Now, I’m hoping that someone is going to love this as much as I do. I realize this picture of a brace of pheasant is not exactly to modern taste, but I’m guessing that it would have been exactly to FDR’s, given  his love of ornithology. (Remember our president-resident was an avid hunter and taxidermist since he was a boy. Birds were his passion) What’s really interesting about this piece, and what you can’t see in the picture, is that the image is three dimensional – the chromo-lithograph has been bonded to pressed cardboard, in a way I’ve never seen before: the feathers are raised and articulated, the berries rounded, you can even see mock brush strokes to emulate a fine oil painting. The dealer I purchased this from had four others depicting fishing and hunting scenes, and said these were the only ones he had ever seen in two decades in the biz.



DATE: CA 1900


Now here’s something that should tickle the cleats of the golf fans among you. We found an retired pro golfer to put together this basic set of early 1900’s clubs for us. Both Lathrop and FDR golfed (FDR badly, according to LB) and Lathrop especially would have had a set with him in Cambridge: his mother was the first woman amateur national champion, in 1895. The entire Brown family golfed together, and we have several pictures in the Suite of them on the links. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a case in good enough condition. If anyone has a golf bag in canvas or leather with a 4″ opening (common to that period) that they would like to donate, please let me know!



DATE: PRE-1905
SIZE: 9″


Oh, what a beauty! This is an INCREDIBLE rarity, as very few footballs survive from this period. According to David Patterson, in his excellent article How the NFL Football Got Its Shape, “the football’s nickname of pigskin explains a lot of its history. In the early days, before Charles Goodyear made better use of rubber, balls for early rugby, then football games were made from inflated pig bladders. They were relatively round, durable and in plentiful supply. Later versions covered them in a leather skin, stitched together by laces. Those laces are still on today’s balls, even though they’re not needed for closure. Players use the laces to better grip the ball.Even when pigs were spared in favor of rubber versions in the late 1800s, the early versions were difficult to blow up manually. Their ultimate shape varied from game to game as the bladders were inflated. Moving into the new century, the quality control improved, but the watermelon shape was retained. Over the years, as production methods matured, the ends of the ball became even more pronounced. With all leagues promoting the forward pass, being able to grip the ball with one hand, as well as throw a spiral pass, has ensured the current shape will be retained.”

The forward pass, by the way, is how we can date the ball: the pass was part of an intercollegiate agreement signed in 1905 which attempted to reduce fatalities on the field, and rounded balls like this one quickly became outdated. (Pointed balls better facilitated the newly permitted pass.) Interestingly, another idea to decrease football injuries was to increase the side of the field, on the theory that more room meant fewer deadly collisions. This plan was vetoed by Harvard, who had just, in 1903, completed a fixed-width ferro-concrete stadium, one of the first in the country, and was not about to rebuild. The field has been the same size ever since.

We acquired this rare and costly item for two reasons: it recalls, like nothing else, the football mania that gripped Harvard during FDR’s tenure, as well as the fact that Lathrop, huge fan, managed both the Freshman and Varsity teams, and received a varsity “H” for his efforts.


SIZE: CA 10″


This is the first in an odd half dozen or so steins we plan to acquire. Steins were a common feature in almost every room,  inevitably hung beneath the mantle for use on “beer nights.” This is a particularly nice prewar example from Germany with classic detailing.



DATE: CA 1905
SIZE: CA 10″


Another stein, this time one of the sub-genera of advertising steins common at the turn of the century. The Boston firm, Murray Co, produced soda waters, which is not as curious as it sounds: businesses of all types commonly used the ubiquitous stein to get out their advertising message.



DATE: CA 1900
SIZE: CA 15″

ADOPTION PRICE: (shelf) $100 (tin) $25
These little ball and stick shelves are surprisingly rare, especially folding ones like ours. (The shelves pop out, and the sides fold flat for storage. Very handy for a student!)  This great piece will be mounted over the tub, and house a collection of period patent medicines and other period drugs. (Note to Administration: all benign!) A 1901 tin of “Fresh Seidlitz Powders” begins our collection.



DATE: CA 1880
SIZE: CA 36″


This clever item will allow guests to hang towels or clothes in a bathroom from an age before towel racks. Very intelligently designed, the hooks fold flat in an ornamental pattern when not in use, ideal for the space we have in mind behind the door. While this piece, with its Eastlake styling, predates the Suite by a few decades, it’s so handy that I’m thinking it’s one of those essentials Sara insisted FDR take from Springwood: “Franklin, don’t forget those interlocking hooks for your bathroom; I notice there was nothing installed in Westmorly Court, and you wouldn’t want to damage your linens!”



SIZE: 6″ X 5″

This little gem I found for $10. It’s signed Albert Shay; the back has a framing label from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Stylistically, it’s very much of the period, and the subject matter is spot-on for an enthusiast of all things nautical like FDR. The adoption cost includes a new mat and frame to restore this little beauty to its rightful pride of place.



DATE: 1905
SIZE: CA 12″ x9


OK, so technically this was copyrighted in 1905, but I’m invoking president’s privilege here; who’s to say it wasn’t drawn in 1904? Here’s why I’m willing to fudge: it’s an original William Penfield from Colliers, the same Penfield who painted the murals in the Randolph breakfast room in 1897. Highly collectible, it’s a beautiful image, very much in Gilded Age style. Adoption cost includes framing.



DATE: CA 1880-1910

I found a wonderfully knowledgeable vendor at Brimfield who will be helping us select period linens for the tables, mantels, beds etc. These are all hand-stitched pieces, mind-bogglingly detailed. A huge find, and critical to Victorian decor.


SO THEN, have I whet your appetite to help us? I hope so!

If so, leave me a note below in the comment section (or email) as to what item you’d like to adopt, and I’ll be in touch. We’ll be building the official “Adopt an Antique” pages over the next weeks to register your gifts. First come, first commemorated!

As always, our thanks.

Presidential Pathways: A Walking Tour of Harvard

TRFDR copyThe Harvard Alumni Association invites you to a collection series:

Presidential Pathways: A Walking Tour of Harvard
Michael Weishan, Author, PBS Host, President of the FDR Suite Foundation.

Saturday, September 25, 2010
11:00 am -1:00 pm (Registration and meeting time 10:45 am) Meeting location: John Harvard Statue, Harvard Yard

This behind-the-scenes walking tour follows the student footsteps of two of America’s greatest presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The tour includes exclusive access to interiors not normally open to the public. View the spectacular set of Edward Penfield murals in the former breakfast room of Randolph Hall, the recently restored 1904 interior of the FDR Suite in Westmorly, and the Theodore Roosevelt room in the Adams House master’s residence.

Light walking; uneven brick pavement, some steps.
The tour lasts approximately one hour; lunch to follow in the newly restored Annenburg dining hall.

Limited enrollment.
Alumni and friends of the Harvard community $20

Of Arms and a Man, and a Foundation

The family crest of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; FDR modified the design from TR's, changing the rose bush of the former to three cut roses.

The family crest of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the three ostrich feathers are very similiar to those born by the English heir-apparent.

For over a year now, we been searching for some sort of logo for the Foundation. We’ve thought of many different options, only to discard them one by one: too impractical, too difficult to reproduce, to expensive to commission… etc. etc. Then, the other day, I came across a mention of  a Roosevelt family crest, which I  hadn’t even known existed. It seems my ignorance of Rooseveltian heraldry was not for lack of trying on FDR’s part: our 32nd President was hugely proud of his family heritage, and it turns out he took every opportunity of plastering the Roosevelt arms everywhere he could: escutcheons over the fireplaces in the library at Hyde Park, on personal bookplates, on the White House china, on official presents to visitors (including the Queen of England) even on the very first gift he ever gave to Eleanor: a ring, with family crest, when they were engaged. I became intrigued. What did this mysterious crest look like? A bit of research pulled it up, thanks to the American Heraldry Society. You see it here on the left in all its gaudy glory.

These rather regal arms are descended from a much simpler set, those of FDR’s presumed Dutch burgher descendants, the Van Rosevelts, of Oud-Vossemeer, Netherlands, which originally featured three heraldic roses in a field of green, over a rampant lion in brilliant crimson. (There is some on-going debate as to whether or not this particular coat of arms rightly belonged to the American branch of the Roosevelt clan. See the next link, below.)

The original Van Rosevelt crest

The original Van Rosevelt crest, which may, or may not, have actually belonged to FDR's line. It was in any case adopted by the Roosevelts in New Amsterdam.

In any event, once arrived in the colony of New Amsterdam, the Roosevelts proudly assumed heraldic arms, and somewhere along the line, this symbology was modified: the lion disappeared, and the three roses became a rose bush in a greensward. In addition, the Latin motto, “He who has planted will preserve” was adopted. (The translation is a little awkward, but makes sense in the original. The word curare has a general meaning of “to save for the future” in Latin, and combines elements of both our English “cure” (as in sausage or paint) “cure” (as in heal the patient) and preserve (as in protect.) The crest is what’s known is a canting, or visual pun: the name van Rosevelt means “from the rose field” in Dutch. This crest with the rose bush is the one Theodore Roosevelt and his family used, and FDR could have done the same. Unlike the English, who insist the second and subsequent sons of the family make small changes to their personal crests to acknowledge primacy of the eldest’s line, the Dutch allow male lineal descendants to adopt the same crest without alteration.  But no: always interested in setting himself apart, FDR modified his family arms to show three cut roses instead of the pattern TR had used.

(You can see both crests side-by-side, as well as the complete article on the Roosevelt family arms, by clicking HERE.)

This fascinating foray into heraldry got me to thinking. As our famous president-resident was so fond of his arms, perhaps, I thought, something similar might be appropriate for the Foundation…

Foundation crest version 6Hmmm. A bit of playing around with various designs, and two days of holiday time and about 40 iterations later, may I introduce to you the new FDR Suite Foundation crest!

The  design (which eliminates the more, shall we say, ostentatious elements of Roosevelt’s arms  – I thought we might get laughed off the block if I tried to include those royal feathers) takes its divisions from the original van Rosevelt family crest, and combines the three red roses from FDR’s arms (flowers here have symbolic thorns to replace stems), along with the famous acorn and oak leaf of Adams House (itself derived from John Adams’ seal ring.) The gold recalls our Gold Coast history, and the Crimson, Harvard’s. The brown chevron is another canting, reminding us of the other half of the FDR Suite equation: Lathrop Brown, FDR’s roommate at Groton and Harvard & lifelong friend.  In heraldic language, the description reads: (if I got this right) –  party per fess or and gules a chevron brunatre between three roses proper barbed of the field above an acorn and oak leaf of the first, which hopefully means “a blazon divided into upper and low halves, gold on top, crimson on bottom, separated  with three roses in their natural color (proper) separated by a brown chevron above, and a golden oak leaf and acorn below.” Whew!

Finally (and here as a classics major I am on much more solid ground) the Latin motto has been changed slightly to reflect our mission. It now reads: He who has restored, preserves.

There are still a few tweaks & refinements to be made to the design, but I’m thinking this is going to work out just fine: a fascinating blend of Roosevelt and Harvard history, crafted and reshaped to benefit the future of both.

FDR’s Secret Code

How’s this for an elliptical tale: I was sitting last evening in FDR Suite, attending a small get-together hosted by Claire Mays, ’81, who’s our first guest since the Suite was sufficiently completed to lose its air of camping. There were nine of us, and we were sitting around in an odd allotment of chairs – our comfy Morris chairs, of course, plus the new settee, but also a clustering of small wooden period chairs to accommodate the extra company, It struck me as I looked from smiling face to face that this is very much how the room must have appeared when Lathrop and Frank had a few friends over to sit around the fire sharing a couple of beers. (We on the other hand were sipping a rye-based period cocktail that Claire had discovered somewhere and kindly attempted to resurrect. If the general reaction of my fellow drinkers was any indication, this is one revival that probably won’t gain steam any time soon. No matter; it’s the thought that counts.) But to return to my story: there we were with the gaslights aglow, cozily ensconced against the wind and wet of a rare August Nor-easter, when one of the guests asked me if any of the items in the room actually belonged to FDR. The answer, I replied, was no – while every item in the Suite is either attested from documentation, or presumed from similar period rooms, the sad fact is that we don’t have anything from FDR himself. We come close – personal items from his classmates, publications from the period, etc, but nothing we know that FDR actually possessed. In fact, there’s remarkably little surviving from that period that can be absolutely known to have been in the Suite: letters home certainly, but not much else, except one very interesting book: FDR’s line-a-day diary.

This intriguing item, now at the FDR Presidential Museum in Hyde Park, was kept intermittently by FDR for years. It’s a handy little system, really – you just dotted down a note or two each day in a pocket-sized book, and soon you could look back and see what had been going on in your life that same date, one, two three, four years back. The interesting thing about FDR’s volume is that several of the pages were written in a private code, as you can see for the entry of 1903:


The text reads: “To Groton at 9 & get there just in time for Church. Lunch with Aunt K’s [Aunt Kassie, Mrs Price Collier] party.” Then comes the code, followed by: “Supper with all relatives at Whitney’s. Chapel in the evening” and then another coded sentence. The coded parts were not deciphered until the 1970s, when a researcher at the Archives, Nona Ferndon, first noticed them. It was eventually discovered that the code that FDR used substituted numbers for the first five vowels (1 for a; 2 for e; 3 for i, 4 for o, 5 for u, and distinctive portions of consonant letters for the the letter itself ( ¬ for T, – for H, etc.). The sentences can now be read as: “After lunch I have a never to be forgotten walk with my darling.” & “And I am going to New York next Sunday.”

So why all the mystery? La romance, toujours la romance: this was the day that FDR proposed to Eleanor at Groton,  and surely expecting maternal opposition, our president-resident decided for the moment to keep his thoughts secret. (Does this imply FDR feared Mama reading his diary? We know not, but Sara was not told until the week following, and made her opposition perfectly plain when informed.) The other, earlier coded entries also deal with a love interest; this time though, it was directed at Alice Sohier, who had turned down FDR the year previous, and who in sailing off to Europe, eventually sailed into the arms of another beau as his first lady, albeit of a far less famous kind.

OK Michael, I hear you say, all this cyclic narrative is most engaging, but what’s this got to do with the Suite? How are you so sure that this particular book was there? Well, look at the first entry for 1901. You may think that’s some kind of code as well, but what you’re really seeing is bleed-through from the next page. Flip the paper, and it says: “Sat. November 23 1901. HARVARD 22 – YALE 0. Wonderful game. Wonderful day for Harvard. Wonderful evening.”

Can’t you just picture our sophomore FDR at his desk in the Suite, penning that little note?

Well, I can assure you it’s certainly much easier now, with the renovations 3/4 completed, sitting around the hearth with a few new friends…

Yes, a wonderful day for Harvard indeed – and a wonderful evening.

All the King’s Horses…

Who said you couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty back together again? Several day’s worth  of hard work later, the Suite has emerged with its new coat of paper, remarkably transformed, looking for the first time in over a century very nearly like a Victorian room:

The study looking south

The study looking south

Our piano, festooned with period tunes. That's Johnny the bobcat, by the way, our mascot; beneath his sharp claws poor old Eli is down for the count

Our piano, festooned with period tunes. That's Johnny the bobcat, by the way, our mascot; beneath his sharp claws poor old Eli the quail is down for the count

The study looking north; FDR's bedroom on the left, Lathrop's center. You can just glimpse "George" Lathrop's 8 point buck through the door frame

The study looking north; FDR's bedroom on the left, Lathrop's center. You can just glimpse "George," Lathrop's eight-point buck through the door, named by Judith Palfrey, our master, after our Foundation's dear Father George. "The white collar says it all." Amen to that.

FDR slept here...

FDR slept here...

Lest we forgot: the Suite this past February, and this afternoon, August 6, 2010.

Lest we forget: the Suite this past February, and the same view this afternoon, August 6, 2010.

What’s next? Window treatments, and – hopefully – more generous contributions from our friends and supporters, as our coffers are again growing bare…

Wallpaper At Last!

An epic campaign ended today as the first rolls of  historic wallpaper were applied to the walls of the FDR Suite study. You may remember all the trials and tribulations we had in piecing together the pattern from fragments I discovered last summer behind the large radiator. Then Kari Pei, Head of Design at Wolf-Gordon in NYC (and wife to Li-Chung Pei. Adams, ’72) who had generously offered to recreate the paper, began an almost year-long process of back and forth design and redesign, trying to replicate a period look and feel using the latest digital techniques. A thousand problems along the way – wrong color palettes, wiggly lines, fuzzy digitals – were eventually overcome, and today, thanks to the Peis’ marvelous generosity in donating both the design labor plus the cost of the paper, we at last have a good estimation of the pattern that graced the walls during FDR’s tenure at Westmorly Court.

Here are two very quick progress shots, taken this afternoon as the workman prepared paste and paper. (Keep in mind these are snaps, taken with flash, and the actual colors are considerably deeper in real life.) The first shows all the furniture crowded into the center of the room, and the newly papered walls. The effect of the narrow pattern is surprisingly cloth-like, and quite masculine in feel. Note too how the ornate period radiator (recently restored) and new light fixtures suddenly come to life against the patterned  background.


And here’s another shot, showing a section of wall we had temporarily painted, and the newly papered wall in comparison. It’s amazing how much richer the papered surface appears than the flat paint. We’re finally getting the feel of a real Victorian room!


Now all we have to do is put everything back in place! Updated higher quality photos to follow…

Once again, we at the Foundation and everyone at Adams House would like to express our heartiest thanks to the Pei’s for the extremely generous donation of time, effort and funds to complete this project!