Ask the Archivist

Peeving POTUS

Q: I collect old law books, though I don’t have any that are tremendously valuable. I’m really more interested in stories connected with the books than with the contents. Do you have any rare books in the Archives that have great stories to tell? - WRH

A. How about the book that ticked off the President of the United States?

Before going into politics, Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer, and he traveled extensively while working for a London-based mining company. During his years abroad he began collecting books on all aspects of mining, eventually amassing perhaps the world’s greatest collection on the topic. (The books are now in the Hoover Library at Stanford.) Also a collector — though focusing on the narrower topic of mining law — was Boalt Hall professor William E. Colby, who taught the subject at the law school from 1911 to 1937.

Colby and Hoover became friends because of their shared bibliophilia. Hoover built his book collection primarily through contacts with European book dealers, who sent him their catalogues and set aside for his review unusual volumes on mining that came their way. Colby had few European contacts, but Hoover would frequently pass along his dealer catalogues, particularly if they included books on mining law that Hoover himself already owned.

In a 1953 oral history interview, Professor Colby recalled that “one of the book firms [Hoover] had put me in touch with, Wesley & Co. of London, sent me a notation of a very rare book I’d been looking for for a long time. It was Mander’s Mining Glossary published in Derbyshire [in 1824], and Hoover was very anxious to get it. He found from some other books it had been published, and he put in a standing order for it.”

“Because he was away from London, they sent it on to me, and it arrived when Hoover was [in California]. I showed it to him and he became very indignant because this book firm had not kept it for him on his special order. I told him that he could have it photostatted any time and that I’d loan it to him any time he wanted. That did not seem to satisfy him. So that is one book in my collection that I don’t think exists in his.”

The rare book coveted by the President of the United States in now part of the Law School Archives.

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Manders Mining Glossary