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Letter to Junius B. Wood on the Minerva Clock and Other Antique White House furnishings.

August 14, 1952

Dear Mr. Wood:

I have the exact information on the Minerva clock from the archives of the White House. It was not purchased for Thomas Jefferson by Monroe but was bought by Monroe himself when he was President. The bill in payment of the purchase was approved May 4, 1818 by Monroe himself. I have his signature on the document which contained the bill not only for the Minerva clock but for various pieces of furniture.

There is also another clock, which is under the picture of John Quincy Adams, known as the Hannibal clock. It also is of ancient vintage, comparatively, in our young Nation and is part of the original furnishings of the White House.

It is tragic what has happened to the wonderful old pieces of furniture which were bought by the early Presidents. Except for the Blue Room suite there is not a single stick of that original furniture left and the two clocks to which I refer, along with a number of clocks in the various bedrooms, are the only early pieces that are left.

We have the Lincoln bed, dresser and full length mirror in mahogany which were apparently made especially for Lincoln. There is a little marble top table in the Lincoln room which is supposed to have been the piece on which he signed the Emancipation proclamation. I found four of Lincoln's Cabinet chairs in the attic of the Treasury Building with parts of them broken and the upholstery mouse-eaten. I had them upholstered in the colors which were supposed to have been used in the Lincoln Cabinet Room. When the White House was renovated the interior decorator reupholstered these chairs in black, which should not have been done.

If you will get a copy of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts for January 1946 you will get some interesting information about what has happened to the White House furniture. I've been told, although I have no documents to prove it, that one of the Presidents cleaned out the attic of the White House and had an auction on the Pennsylvania Avenue side and scattered many wonderful antique pieces from one end of the country to the other, and they can't be found.

It is like the chandeliers in the East Room. All three of the original chandeliers are down in the Capitol--one is in the office of the Secretary of the Senate, one is in the Ways and Means Committee Room of the House and the other one is in the room in which the Naval Affairs Committee formerly met in the Senate Office Building. I tried to get these chandeliers back and put them where they were before McKim, Mead and White and Teddy Roosevelt gave them away. I had the three monstrosities that replaced the beautiful chandeliers remodeled and they do not look quite as terrible as they did before the house was renovated.

There is one thing certain--none of these pieces in the White House are now in danger of being completely destroyed as they were before the renovation took place.

We have been slowly and gradually collecting samples of the chinaware and glassware with which the House was furnished. Monroe bought some very fine decanters and glasses to go with them made of blue cut glass. Not a single piece of this purchase can be found anywhere, although we do have samples of most of the chinaware which the various Presidents used. We have no sample of Monroe's chinaware.

The only reason I am going into some detail is that you apparently are interested, just as I am, in the White House. Very few people have been. Even those who have occupied it have taken it as a matter of course and have not paid much attention to pieces of historical value.

Sincerely yours,

HARRY S. TRUMAN

[Mr. Junius B. Wood, Woodcote, Route 4, Holland, Michigan]

Note: Mr. Wood had written to the President on May 6 after having seen a televised tour of the White House in which the President commented on the Minerva clock. Mr. Wood stated in his letter that the clock was believed to have been acquired during the Polk administration. The President replied on May 14, expressing his belief that Monroe had given the clock to Jefferson, but adding that the history of the clock would be checked and the facts sent to Mr. Wood.

At his news conference of August 14 (see Item 228 [1]), the President distributed to the press copies of his second letter to Mr. Wood. In the letter he referred to McKim, Mead and White, the architectural firm in charge of renovating the White House in 1902.

Harry S. Truman, Letter to Junius B. Wood on the Minerva Clock and Other Antique White House furnishings. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231293

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