Dakota Datebook

J. Dexter Peirce

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

As a hobby, collecting autographs has been around for many centuries. Reports from as early as 435 B.C., mention autograph collecting by the ancient Egyptians.
One of North Dakota’s most prolific autograph collectors was J. Dexter Peirce. Mr. Pierce was born on this date in Newburgh, New York in 1857. His ambition was to be a professor, but ill health caused him to abandon his education at Harvard University.
In the early 1880’s, Mr. Peirce made the decision to “go west and rough it.” This decision brought him to North Dakota. He took up land in the Hunter area, and built a sod house there. He also eventually owned land and started an insurance office in the Larimore area. Serving several terms in the North Dakota legislature, Mr. Peirce was a strong believer in children’s education and welfare.
No one is sure what prompted this kindly, almost timid gentleman to collect autographs. But collect them he did!
The autographs are from letters, journals or other documents on which the author placed their signature. Peirce’s earliest autograph, dated 1795, comes from Oliver Wolcott, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The most recent, is an autograph of Congressman O.B. Burtness from 1931.
Mr. Peirce has autographs from five US presidents and six Vice Presidents. Authors and poets, such as Mark Twain, Longfellow and Whittier. Susan B. Anthony, the great woman suffragist’s autograph is among the collection. Showman B.T. Barnum’s and cartoonist Thomas Nast’s autographs are also included. Arctic explorers, corporation and university presidents as well as state governors are among the collection.
Mr. Peirce must have had more than a passing interest in the Civil War. He had collected autographs from twenty-seven generals, both Union and Confederate. Grant, Sherman, Robert E. Lee and Longstreet are among the notable military autographs.
Mr. Peirce’s “scrapbook” of autographs is made of black leather, stamped in gold. It measures 7 by 9 inches. Although small, it contains sixty five pages with over 170 signatures of famous people throughout our country’s history.
Although worth thousands of dollars, Mr. Peirce left his entire collection to the State Historical Society in Bismarck, where it is still kept today.
J. Dexter Peirce; North Dakota farmer, businessman and prolific autograph collector, died in 1945.

The J. Dexter Peirce Autograph Collection, Paul E. Barr, University of North Dakota, North Dakota History, Volume 13, No. 3, July, 1946. State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck, ND. Pg. 112-117.

Written by Dave Seifert

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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