Three centuries scrawled in ink

49 governors' signatures on display at Pa. museum

49 governors' signatures on display at Pa. museum

January 16, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Autograph hounds are nothing new. Athletes and movie stars are constantly scribbling their signatures for fans.

But governors? Not necessarily a hot ticket.

Except for one Thomas Brumbaugh, who began collecting the John Hancocks of Pennsylvania governors as a child. A touch quirky, perhaps, but impressive nonetheless.

"It's a very personal part of each person. It's used every day, it's used for identification and no two signatures are alike," says Allison-Antrim Museum President Bonnie A. Shockey. "And the signatures we have on display here are part of the essence of those people."

Through January, the museum is displaying all 49 signatures in the collection, plus two more on loan. The 51 swirls and swoops represent more than half the men who have held Pennsylvania's highest office since the colonial era.


An open house from noon to 3 p.m. today provides visitors an opportunity to see two-time Governor Benjamin Franklin's signature, or Tom Ridge's message written across the bottom of a photograph.

"I was amazed, especially at the number of 17- and 1800s signatures that were in the collection," Shockey says. "Because they're very rare and it would seem, to me as a novice collector of signatures, some signatures would be difficult to find."

When Brumbaugh donated his collection, a couple of weeks before the museum opened in August 1998, it contained 41 monikers on documents as diverse as land grants and personal correspondence.

The oldest item dates back to 1715, an animal skin parchment dated March 10, and signed by future governor James Logan; most recent is Governor-elect Ed Rendell's.

Never before interested by signatures in this way, Shockey has learned they represent a window into eras long past. And portraits or photos of each man that accompany the handwriting add resonance to the exhibit.

"There are so many of the men who have become obscure, but they all had a contribution they made to Pennsylvania, and even on the national level," she says. "It's amazing, whenever you get into the research on the background of each man, how Pennsylvania is the way it is because of the contributions of each man."

Eager to supplement the collection whenever possible, Shockey says it is no surprise that older signatures, dating back to the 1600s, are most difficult to obtain.

Every governor in the 20th century is represented in the exhibit, and there are few gaps in the post Civil War period.

When Shockey was placing the exhibit - only a handful of the oldest specimens are on permanent display - she became awestruck by the notion she was handling documents created by these men who were powerful in their time, hundreds of years ago.

"The documents are tangible proof that they existed," she says. "You get an insight into their daily lives by reading the documents. And for those governors whose signatures we have that have passed away, no one can get any closer to them than they can through this exhibit."

If you go

The Thomas Brumbaugh Collection of Pennsylvania Governors' Signatures

Through January

Allison-Antrim Museum

365 S. Ridge Ave.

Greencastle, Pa.

An open house is from noon to 3 p.m. today. Other hours are by appointment only. Call 1-717-597-9010.

Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

For information, go to on the Web.

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