Seller Story

Carl Anthony, Presidential Historian

Historian, journalist, and author Carl Anthony has been covering presidential families for more than twenty years. His extensive research, writing and analysis on the subject includes the two-volume book First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents’ Wives & Their Power, 1789-1990, America’s First Families, The Kennedy White House, and the first biographies ever written of oft-neglected but powerful first ladies, including Ida McKinley, Nellie Taft, Florence Harding, and Jackie Kennedy — the latter in As We Remember Her: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the Words of her Friends and Family. Anthony has served as a Smithsonian consultant during a renovation of its First Ladies Collection, a historian to the National First Ladies Library, and has written for Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, and Hillary Clinton.

Through his work and personal relationships with the first families, Anthony amassed a vast collection of presidential material — both gifted and acquired. “It’s impossible to know, but I’d say it’s composed of 500 or 600 items,” he notes of the record albums, inaugural invitations, tableware, postcards, and political cartoons in his collection, plus napkins, matches, and candy boxes he was able to take as a guest at the White House, Camp David, and on Air Force and Marine One. “I’m not nearly anywhere done with writing books and articles, and exploring new avenues and ideas related to not just the the Presidents, First Ladies, and their families, but the wider range of important, largely untold American stories,” he says. "One can’t help but find trails to these through studying the human aspects of the presidency.”

Seller Story: Carl Anthony, Presidential Historian
Seller Story: Carl Anthony, Presidential Historian
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Seller Story: Carl Anthony, Presidential Historian

What’s a piece that’s special to you?

They may not be the most spectacular or rare, but the thick olive green book that was published upon the 1881 assassination of James Garfield, and a brown tooled one that was published in 1923 upon the sudden and unexpected death of president Warren G. Harding. There’s a poignancy I still feel about these; first, because I bought them at the Green Dragon Farmer’s Market in Pennsylvania with my parents and grandmother, and also because they remind me of how even those who didn’t agree with the politics of one particular President joined in mourning the leader. There was once so much respect from the people for the president but also — as the books show — respect from those presidents for the people. Both men came from genuinely humble origins, were personally honest, and rose to the presidency. Is that an America lost? I hope not.

Do you have a favorite?

I’ve been especially intrigued by the irreverent and even critical pop culture items depicting individual presidents and first ladies who became symbols of an era. Theodore Roosevelt was so dynamic, and the curious little canister of “Rough Rider,” baking powder reflects that; the idea of this ingredient that rises bread and had somehow magically captured the energy of Teddy. There’s the famous “Queen Nancy” postcard and other Reagan caricature items using her as a symbol of royal living during the late 1980s recession. The lot with George W. Bush items, like the jack-in-the-box and bank, are more lighthearted, even if they are tied to his bringing the country into the controversial Iraqi War. Those about LBJ, fueled by the anti-Vietnam War movement, go from humorous to malicious, an arc you can see reflected in the comedy albums and the script for the controversial play MacBird.