National Handwriting Day: Herbert Hoover’s “One per Annum” Autograph Letter

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 23, 2012

January 23, 2012
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Here, at last, the conundrum of the President who is at once both the most common and the rarest in manuscript material, is solved. Herbert Hoover, the 31st President (1929-1933), loved to write one kind of letter – typewritten – and did so, constantly; but hated to write handwritten ones, and did so only once a year. Here he explains:

“I am not in favor of holograph letters – I would not get through 1/10th of 1% of my mail that way – moreover the typewriter spells better and leaves a record by which you can prove what you did not say, and that is part of one’s daily occupation. But the typewriter is a poor method of conveying emotion. Therefore, this note is intended to convey more than usual wishes of a happy and prosperous new year to you and yours.”

That was in 1937, and Hoover, by then had been out of office – and assumedly, much less busy – for four years.  As president, his antipathy to handwritten letters was, not surprisingly, even stronger…

Hoover liked to say that he doubted he wrote more than a dozen autograph letters in his life – which wasn’t true. His writing skills, clearly, trumped his math. But that he wrote not more than six, or seven, as President, is no exaggeration. The letter to New York lawyer Warnick J. Kernan (and, under the aegis of the Utica Public Library, recipient of autograph letters of presidents in office from Theodore Roosevelt to Dwight D. Eisenhower) is one of them and, as Hoover happily acknowledges, it’s his “one autograph letter per annum.” “In these days of efficient stenographers and few minutes to waste,” Hoover explains, a President simply hasn’t any time for more than one…

Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover. National Archives.

It wasn’t just the issue of time, however, which concerned Hoover; it was money, too. Well on his way to ninety, and the author of countless thousands of letters, Hoover wrote to complain to a young autograph collector that he thought the boy “ought to know something about handwritten letters from people of great responsibilities.” “People sell them,” he griped. “One of mine was sold.”  And most men, he added“don’t like such trafficking in their letters.”

HERBERT HOOVER. 1874 – 1964. The 31st President of the United States

Autograph Letter Signed, 2 pages, recto and verso, on his personal letterhead, no place, December 22, 1937. To Mr. Lampson.