Rare who's who of 19th century autographs goes up for auction

VANCOUVER – When dignitaries, musicians, sideshow performers or generals showed up for an audience with the U.S. president, they were greeted by a doorman who welcomed them to the executive mansion — later the White House — and asked for their autograph.

Over 40 years and through eight presidents, German immigrant Maj. Charles D.A. Loeffler amassed a signature collection that reads like a who’s who history of the influential, talented and powerful of the 19th century. His autograph book is now up for auction in Vancouver Sept. 18, along with various oddments of fine art, jewelry, furniture, antiques and dinosaur bones.

Loeffler policed the White House door from 1869 to 1909 for Presidents Ulysses S. Grant through to Theodore Roosevelt.

Maynards Fine Art & Antiques senior appraiser Neil McAllister said Loeffler was known at the White House for asking for the signatures of those visiting the presidents.

“So even during his time, people were almost expecting to be asked,” he said.

Loeffler, gathered nearly 300 signatures of everyone from the presidents he worked with to foreign politicians and dignitaries.

“He collected the signatures of various politicians, stars, writers, historic figures. He collected this for himself. When he retired, he put it all together in this album,” McAllister said.

The album includes the signatures of Ulysses S. Grant, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, The Queen of Hawaii, Buffalo Bill Cody, P.T. Barnam, and many others.

American author and humorist Mark Twain signed both his pen name and his real name, Samuel Clemens.

“It covers the whole gamut,” McAllister said.

“Another interesting fact is a lot of the signatures have dates associated with them, so if you’re interested in doing research, put the name in and find out why this person is at the White House, for what purpose.”

Charles Tupper, who served as Canada’s prime minister for only 10 weeks, signed.

Maynards vice-president Hugh Bulmer said Loeffler knew how to open doors and had good connections.

“This is unique. It’s one-off. There was only one doorman at the White House, only one person who could possibly amass a collection of this type over a short period of time,” he said. “There will be a lot of people chasing this piece.”

The auction house has valued the book at between $10,000 and $15,000.

McAllister said they would expect interest from Americans and political history buffs because of the political signatures.

Such autograph books aren’t unique, but the effort taken to collect the signatures over a 40-year period does make it special, McAllister said.

“The fact that it’s a known entity really gives us some good provenance. You can go on Google, you type in the officer’s name, you’ll see lots of information about this specific officer.”

The seller wanted to remain anonymous.

Up until about 40 years ago, the autograph collection was in the possession of Loeffler’s family.

“The consignor only knows the book was acquired in the 1970s in New York … from whom is unknown,” said Maynards media spokeswoman Sara McCormick in an email.

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