The Oyster Bay Historical Society has acquired its first signed photograph of favorite son Theodore Roosevelt, all because Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr. browsed a Virginia antiques shop.
When the lifelong history buff three weeks ago spotted a portrait of the 26th president autographed by him, Altadonna bought it with the intention of donating it to the society, which he did last week. The portrait will be exhibited periodically at the organization's exhibition center.
"I have an interest in all the presidents, especially the earlier presidents, and what they've contributed to the country," said Altadonna, who had never purchased a Roosevelt antique before.
"I saw it and it was just stunning so I was drawn to it," he said. "I didn't even realize who it was at first. As I got closer, I realized it was Theodore Roosevelt and it was something I wanted to bring back to the Island. It should be brought back to its home, to Oyster Bay."
He thought of the historical society because he has loaned artifacts to it in the past. He said he had it appraised, for $17,500, but paid less than that.
"It's important for us because it is not the kind of thing we have in our collection," said Philip Blocklyn, the society's executive director. "It would normally go to other Roosevelt repositories" such as nearby Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Cove Neck, TR's homesite.
Blocklyn said the only items the organization had that were signed by TR are a few personal letters to a cousin.
The image was taken by photojournalist Jimmy Hare, a war correspondent who covered the Spanish-American War, in which Roosevelt gained fame as colonel of the Rough Riders.
Roosevelt dedicated the photo to Hare's daughter on Jan. 12, 1918, almost a year before Roosevelt's death. He wrote on the photograph: "Presented for Miss Dorothy C. Hare with the best wishes of Theodore Roosevelt."
"There aren't that many photographs that Roosevelt signed with this kind of friendly inscription," Blocklyn said.
Marco Tomaschett, autographs specialist for Swann Auction Galleries in Manhattan, said signed photos of TR are "relatively common" in the area of presidential collecting because he courted the media.
"Publicity was big thing for him," he said.
Tomaschett said TR autographed photos usually sell from $1,000 to $20,000. "That the photo has a nice provenance -- associated with one of the more well-known war photographers of the period -- makes it all the more desirable to collectors," he said.
Altadonna said he made his first donation to a museum because "it's really important to support organizations that take our great history and teach it and preserve it so other generations can see the greatness of it."