DARIEN, Conn. – After you’ve honored America’s past leaders on Presidents Day, you can check out real samples of presidents’ signatures at the “Signed By The President” exhibit at the Darien Historical Society.
The exhibit, curated by Ken Reiss and Jon Zagrodzky, is made up of some pieces from the society’s collection, as well as two private collections loaned to the society. It includes signatures from more than 25 presidents, dating from the second president, John Adams, to the 43rd president, George W. Bush. Among the pieces are military commissions, land grants, letters, and autographs.
“In the early years, the president signed a vast number of documents, particularly from Jefferson onward,” Reiss said.
The president was responsible for signing military commissions, documents for ships and all federal land grants. At one point, President Andrew Jackson was about 10,000 signatures behind, most of which were land grants. Congress gave him permission to use surrogates to supply his signature. After that, it was common for signatures to be made by secretaries and later machines, such as the autopen.
“Today, it’s almost impossible to get a letter from the White House that wasn’t signed by a machine,” Reiss said.
Since the mid-1800s, machines have used samples of the president’s writing to duplicate his signature. Reiss said Andrew Johnson used to use a stamp when it became difficult to write his signature, but that real experts always can tell when a signature is authentic.
The signatures have some local connections. There is a collection of the U.S. Navy commissions of John Singleton Rudd, whose descendants also lived in town. These documents begin with his midshipman’s appointment at 13 and continue through his career as he rose to the rank of commodore. The appointments in the collection were signed by James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce and Abraham Lincoln.
The exhibit will be on display through the end of the month. The Darien Historical Society is at 45 Old Kings Highway N.
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