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Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Exhibition Celebrates Roosevelt's Pigskin Library

Pigskin exhibition

Roosevelt reading outside his tent in Kijabe, Kenya
(then British East Africa), June 3 or 4, 1909.
Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library (560.61)

August 19, 2009 – After leaving the presidency in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt began preparing for a long-promised safari to British East Africa. Along with the usual tents, provisions and hunting gear, Roosevelt also traveled with a sixty-pound aluminum case, which carried more than 80 of his favorite books. Dubbed the Pigskin Library after their pigskin bindings, the famous literary collection this year celebrates its 100th anniversary with an exhibition opening September 1 in the Theodore Roosevelt Gallery of Pusey Library.

The books were a gift to Roosevelt from his sister Corinne Robinson, and were bound in pigskin as protection against the rigors of the hunt and the tropical climate. The Pigskin Library survives today in 55 volumes, including such works as The Iliad, The Odyssey, Faust, Don Quixote, and poetry by Keats and Shelley.

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A facsimile of the title page of each book in the Pigskin Library is represented in the exhibition, along with a trompe l'oeil image of the books as a group and a replica of the original aluminum case. Photographs of Roosevelt on safari, letters from the trip, and a series of images depicting Roosevelt reading throughout his career are also featured. The actual books and carrying case are housed in Houghton Library.

Upon Roosevelt’s return to America, the Pigskin Library was given to his daughter Ethel, who in turn gave it to one of her own daughters, Sarah Alden Derby Gannett, who died in 1999 and bequeathed it to the Harvard College Library’s Theodore Roosevelt Collection.

Roosevelt Reading: The Pigskin Library, 1909 - 1910, opens September 1 and runs through August 2010 in the Theodore Roosevelt Gallery in Pusey Library. To reach the Gallery, enter through the main entrance of Lamont Library. The Gallery is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.