Kenneth Roberts’ Memorabilia: Roberts’ Signature

Collecting the works of one’s favorite author goes well beyond the mere collection of any book written by the author. Serious collectors prize first-edition copies and pre-release copies. Even within this narrow scope, signed copies are more valued than unsigned copies. Thus, greater monetary value is placed upon signed first-edition or signed pre-release copies because the demand can be high.

Verifying the signature of an author long-deceased can be difficult. There tends to be fewer samples of their signature, and with the passage of time, those who knew the author (and their signature) become fewer and fewer. As such, it is easier for forged signatures to be passed off as genuine signatures. This is just as true with Kenneth Roberts’ signed books.

Before I go forward with this post, I must make a disclaimer – I am in no way an expert on Kenneth Roberts’ signature. I have only two samples of his signature. However, I have communicated with others who have his signature and have seen (via reputable websites) images of his signature to be able to recognize a legitimate signature and a forgery.

With that said, I recently received a copy of a Roberts book that contains a copy of Roberts’ signed name and an inscription. The individual who sent me the book informed me that the particular signed copy was in their uncle’s personal library (but no story on how he received the book). The uncle was an author himself and “a Son of the American Revolution, a member of the New York Historical Society, a descendent of the Schuyler families in New York and an avid reader and collector of History books and manuscripts…He was an expert on New York history.” I was excited to receive the book.

Upon the book’s arrival, I eagerly opened the signed copy, only to find that the signature did not seem to match the signatures of Kenneth Roberts that I’ve seen. The book also contained an inscription, and the message did not fit the tone and wording Roberts typically used. Below are images of two Roberts’ signature that I have – signatures that match many other verified Roberts’ signatures.

This is a Roberts signature located in a presentation copy of Boon Island.

Roberts’ signature on Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition copy, 468/1050

Now, here is the inscription and signature of the book I recently received (I’ll call it the ‘questionable signature’):

This is the inscription and signature found in the book I received recently.

There are a few things to note regarding the differences:

  1. The questionable signature has a more flowing nature to it.
    1. The underscore starts high and has quick, short “swoop” down as the line continues to the right. Roberts has been known to underscore his signature, but the line is more straight with a slight downward tick at the end. Roberts’ lines are more “matter of fact”, where as the line in question has some flair to it.
    2. The first name and last name in the questionable signature are connected by the crossbar of the “t” in “Kenneth”. The crossbar crosses the “t” and continues into the “R” in “Roberts.” Roberts’ signature never does that. Further, the “R” in the questionable signature has a rather large loop before going into the “r’s” leg. Kenneth Roberts’ “r” has a very ill-defined and small loop.
    3. Note the “n’s” in “Kenneth” in the questionable signature. They are similar to the genuine signatures in that they have “peaks”. However, the similarities end there. With Roberts’ signature, there is the first “n” with its peaks, then a “valley” preceding the second “n” (with its peaks); one is able to distinguish between the two “n’s” in his first name. With the questionable signature, there is no “valley” between the two “n’s”. Rather, there are four consecutive “peaks” with no “valley”. Thus, there is little to no distinction between the two “n’s”.
    4. Kenneth Roberts’ signature has a distinctive “z” look to the “e” following the cursive “b” in “Roberts.” In the first two images, note how the “e” coming off the cursive “b” looks like an elevated cursive “z”. However, in the questionable signature, the “e” that follows the cursive “b” looks as a cursive “e” should.
    5. The “o” in Roberts’ genuine signature is not connected by the following “b”, whereas the “o” in the questionable signature is connected to the following “b”.
    6. The “b” in Roberts’ genuine signature looks like a malformed capital “V”, with the left side higher than the right side. The “b” in the questionable signature is a well-formed cursive “b.”
    7. The “th” in “Kenneth” varies as well. The genuine signature has a “pointy” “h”, whereas the questionable signature’s “h” has it’s appropriate loop and hump.
    8. Finally note the cross at the end of Roberts’ name in the questionable signature. Roberts has used a similar mark in some of his signatures (note the second image above). However, Roberts’ mark tends to be a compact, lower-case “x” as opposed to a cross.
  2. The inscription of the questionable signature does not sound like Kenneth Roberts:
    1. The first thing to note is that it is written as if someone else were writing on behalf of Roberts. The use of the definite article (the best wishes) and the possessive “of” (the best wishes of) give off red flags. An author, when signing a book, rarely (if ever?) writes in the third person (unless they are George Costanza).  I am not familiar with Roberts regularly writing an inscription; he generally reserved inscriptions for close friends or colleagues. Roberts’ normal practice was to just sign his name.
    2. Kenneth Roberts’ tone with other people (outside of his writings) were direct and to the point. Reading his I Wanted to Write and For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays indicate that he was a private man who had little time for fans and strangers. Further, he was an impatient man and disliked small talk or anything that lacked purpose. His personality is seen in his signature – the choppy, pointy nature to his signature point to a man with little time for ensuring a picturesque signature. The questionable signature, on the other hand, indicates someone who gives attention and care to one’s signature. Roberts’ signature says “Let’s get this over with”, whereas the questionable signature says “I care about you and want to give you a memento worth keeping.”

Because I’m no handwriting expert, I don’t want to call the last image a forgery. It is possible that someone inscribed the book with the intention of granting best wishes in the name of Kenneth Roberts, not on behalf of Roberts or as Roberts. That is, the inscription and signature were not written to be passed off as Roberts’ own. However, the way the inscription and signature appear gives me the impression that this is more than likely not the case; instead, it is a poor attempt at passing off a Kenneth Roberts’ signature.

Kenneth Roberts Books: Nostalgia and Rabble in Arms


IMG_3261 Kenneth L. Roberts, “Rabble in Arms,” International Collectors Library (Garden City, NY: 1947)

I’ve picked up Rabble in Arms this week for my summer reading. In doing so, I’ve become a little nostalgic about when I collected my first Kenneth Roberts book. I read my first Roberts book in my junior year of high school. I had a reading report to do and no book to read. So, one day I was wandering around our school library and I just randomly picked up a copy of Rabble in Arms. After glancing through it, I thought I’d give it a shot. Little did I know that upon completing Rabble in Arms, I would have read one of the very few books that stand out from among the rest.

Several years passed by without my reading any other Kenneth Roberts books, but I recall considering Rabble in Arms my favorite book. Finally, in either my senior year of college or just after graduating college, I stopped at a rather large used book store in Baton Rouge (that’s unfortunately not there anymore!). And for some reason, I became intent on finding a copy of Rabble in Arms. I didn’t remember the full title, and I didn’t remember Roberts’ name; however, I was bound and determined to find the book. I was nearing the end of my search, literally in the last section of the store when I stumbled upon the copy of Rabble in Arms you see above. I was ecstatic and went home to begin reading a lost but found treasure. Little did I know what purchasing this book would begin…

My first copy of Rabble in Arms is no first edition, nor is it a special edition or a signed copy.. I had to hot glue the spine to keep it from flapping open, and scuff marks are evident on the back board. Yet, it sits on the shelf containing my best copies of Roberts’ works (except when I’m reading it!). Any time I’ve moved, I’ve made sure this book was packed carefully and placed prominently on my bookshelf. This copy may never hold any monetary value, but it will always be of greatest value among all of my books.

Kenneth Roberts’ Genealogy

Characters bearing the surname of Towne or Nason serve as either the main protagonist or play a central role in most of Kenneth Roberts’ novels.  For instance, Langdon Towne was the central character in Oliver Wiswell and Steven Nason was the central character in Arundel. Roberts use of these surnames exhibit not only his attention to historical detail, but his desire to link his works to his New England ancestors.

Some time ago, a Kenneth Roberts fan mailed me some information he received when he attended a presentation by Jack Bales at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine. Among the material sent was a short genealogy of Roberts’ family.

Kenneth Lewis Roberts (1885-1957)

Parents: Frank Lewis Roberts (b. 1840) and Grace Mary Tibbetts (1840)

Grandparents: Jane Amanda Nason (b. 1800) and Ebenezer Armstrong Tibbitts (b. 1800)

Great Grandparents: Daniel Nason (b. 1785) and Lydia Towne (b. 1785)

Great-Great Grandparents: Edward Nason (1756-1847) and Sarah Merrill (b. 1758)

Great-Great-Great Grandparents: Joshua Nason (b. 1725) and Sarah Butler (b. 1728)

Interestingly, Roberts follows his family history from his mother’s side; none of the characters in Roberts’ books are based on ancestors from his father’s side. Various reasons are plausible for such an exclusion. Jack Bales in Kenneth Roberts states that little is known of Roberts’ father (and even of Roberts’ immediate family [Bales, 1]) and that he “was not at all close to his father and never mentioned him in any of his articles or books” (Bales, 2). It’s unknown why Roberts was distant from his father, but one can speculate that his father’s job as a traveling salesman played a significant role (Bales, 2).

Roberts’ relationship with his mother, on the other hand, was one that Roberts spoke of in his I Wanted to Write and in various essays (Bales, 2). The time spent with his mother’s family eventually served as the backdrop for his writings on Maine and his novels.

Though Roberts’ characters surnamed Towne or Nason are fictional, they are based upon real people in Roberts’ past and illustrate his deep appreciation for his family’s history and for his beloved state of Maine.

Kenneth Roberts the Man: Why He Wrote Historical Fiction

If you’ve been reading this blog the past few days, there’s been a lively discussion regarding the nature of Roberts’ research, of which I am not an expert to determine the truthfulness or falsity of what he presents.  As such, while I appreciate the comments from Stephen Sniegoski and Mark York, I remain in my belief that Roberts sought to portray information accurately, and will do so until I can read York’s book and weigh the evidence myself.  I do acknowledge, though, that no historian was 100% objective, completely unfettered by his own worldview and biases. Roberts, I am sure, and practically all historians (more some than others, though), struggle with this.  And, to be fair, this is not unusual – we must all, when given facts, interpret them.  At times, we can be spot on, and other times miss the mark.  When it comes to Roberts, the subject of this blog and a writer I am rather familiar with, I believe he did strive to do history well and accurately. 

Thus, in light of the recent discussion, my tendency is to first give Roberts the benefit of the doubt.  In his autobiography I Wanted to Write (particularly pages 166-169), Roberts discusses what brought him to begin writing historical fiction, and not just history.  This journey began when his curiosity was piqued regarding his family’s role in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812.  When he sought answers from his family, he came up empty of answers and overrunning with more questions.  He then turned to histories for answers.

I had tried to get some of these things straightened out in my mind by reading histories that purported to explain them; but in every case–not in most cases, but in every case–I found that the books explained nothing fully or satisfactorily.  They were drab, dull, unconvincing, rich in omissions, and crowded with statements that couldn’t possibly be true (167).

He goes on to mention other historians of ability (Francis Parkman and William Hickling Prescott, both of whom I am unfamiliar), but pointed out their deficiencies when it came to the American Revolution.  At some point, he came to a turning point in his career:

Before the summer ended I was disgusted beyond words by the incredible dullness and scantiness of so-called histories.  I realized that I could never find out what I wanted to know…unless I assembled all the necessary information from every obtainable source; then put all that information together in a book in which characters acted and talked.

That, it dawned on me, was what I must do.  Even though nobody read what I wrote, it ought to be done, because nobody had every done it before–and there ought to be at least one book that would give the good people of Maine an honest, detailed and easily understood account of how their forebears got along.  I hadn’t the slightest desire then to write what is known as an historical novel, not have I ever had any intention of doing so.  In fact, I have always had a profound aversion to most historical novels, because the people in them aren’t real people, and neither act nor talk like anyone I’ve ever known (168).

Based upon this, and other statements Roberts made elsewhere, I don’t think he sought to write a novel that happened to deal with history; I believe he sought to write history that was readable to the general public, and that means was through the novel.  Later in I Wanted to Write, Roberts discusses the time when Oliver Wiswell was being considered for a Pulitzer, giving us a glimpse into how he viewed his own works. 

Roberts had received news that Oliver Wiswell had not received the Pulitzer, having been ruled out “on the ground that it wasn’t really a novel, but history disguised as fiction” (356).  He would later write in one of his journals: “‘Apparently the Pulitzer Committee considers itself privileged to change the rules on literature as well as Pulitzer’s prize rules; but no matter what the Pulitzer Committee things or says, Oliver Wiswell will continue to be a novel as well as history” (356-57, emphasis mine).  I believe what we see here is that Roberts did not see his work as fiction, nor did he see his work as primarily a novel and secondarily a history.  I believe that Roberts truly believed he was writing a novel AND history; perhaps, based upon his earlier comments mentioned above, Roberts saw himself as writing a history through the vehicle of a novel.

Thus, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Roberts embellished things for the sake of his novel.  Did he get facts wrong?  I’m sure he did.  But to argue that it was due to personal bias or any other reason is to judge Roberts’ intent, which cannot be argued with 100% certainty, but rather to argue plausibly – the likeliness of Roberts embellishing fact for the sake of his novel or the factual error existing for other reasons.  To argue Roberts embellished fact for the sake of the novel, then,  is to place the burden of proof on the one making the claim, and this is a rather difficult claim to back, in my opinion.  

I Wanted to Write is an excellent glimpse into Roberts’ reasons for and motivation behind his writings.  It is also a glimpse into the numerous hours (more like months, even years) he put into research before and during his work on a particular book. If what he relays in his autobiography is honest and of unselfish motivation, then I think we should read his works in light of what he tells us, and handle possible factual errors accordingly.

With this said, I would like to reiterate how exciting it is to see Roberts’ work playing a role in today’s scholarship.  Let’s hope that more follow York by taking Roberts’ works seriously and critically.

K.R. in Current Works: Mark York’s “Patriot on the Kennebec”

Today via the comment section of this blog, I was introduced to Mark York and his work titled Patriot on the Kennebec: Major Reuben Colburn, Benedict Arnold and the March to Quebec, 1775 .  According to York, here is a short blurb on his book:

In late 1775, a few months after the first shots of the Revolution were fired, Benedict Arnold led more than one thousand troops into Quebec to attack the British there. Departing from Massachusetts, by the time they reached Pittston, Maine, they were in desperate need of supplies and equipment to carry them the rest of the way. Many patriotic Mainers contributed, including Major Reuben Colburn, who constructed a flotilla of bateaux for the weary troops. Despite his service in the Continental army, many blamed Colburn when several of the vessels did not withstand the harsh journey. In this narrative, the roles played by Colburn and his fellow Mainers in Arnold’s march are reexamined and revealed.

In my reply to his comment, I’d asked Mark if he could provide a short summary on how he interacts with Kenneth Roberts’ works in his own Patriot on the Kennebec.  Mark kindly responded in an email with the following:

The journals of the members of the expedition Roberts collected and compiled in March to Quebec are critical to the study, but some of Roberts’ pet peeves, chinks in his historical armor, that he reveals in the margins of March are also disproven by the journals themselves. For example, the banquet at Fort Western and Aaron Burr’s exploits. The meal happened, and yet since his relative, Edward Nason, was an enlisted man, he would have been sleeping outside in the rain and not feasting inside with the Howards, Reuben Colburn, Burr and other officers. There was also some unflattering portrayals of the guides from my neck of the woods in Arundel that are sort of insulting. Roberts was a man of privilege, but he could be unapologetic and uncaring of anyone not so lucky.

My essay in the opening of Patriot reflects these flaws while praising his efforts and making my job so much easier. Yet, I believe I’ve broken new ground in uncovering things about the expedition that other authors have miscalculated. Robert’s and I agree on the complex story of Natanis and Sabatis, though. He reveals his initial bias against my central Maine people in the dialogue of Arundel. ” I was prepared to mislike Colburn for Washington and Arnold’s fondness for bateaux, but I had wronged him.”

I find this very intriguing.  While Roberts was indeed a great writer and to be appreciated for his research and writing, he was not without his foibles and errors.  What I appreciate about Mark is that despite his appreciation for Roberts (or maybe because of ?), he is willing to critique Roberts and point out possible errors in his works.

I look forward to reading this book and I hope you get a chance to purchase this book.  You can find it via Amazon by clicking here.

Visit Rocky Pastures – Kenneth Roberts’ Estate

I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year since I’ve last posted on this site.  My apologies for lack of attention to this site!  I must confess, I didn’t realize how busy a Ph D keeps you despite hearing testimonials from friends in the program!

With that said, I received a comment from Paula Robinson Rossouw regarding an opportunity for the public to view Kenneth Roberts’ estate, Rocky Pastures.  Here’s what the comments said:

Rocky Pastures will be open to the public for the first time this summer between June 23 and July 14. The Kennebunkport Historical Society are organizing a Designer Show House. Here’s the link:

I must say that this would definitely be a treat for Kenneth Roberts fans, and I am quite jealous of those who can make it!  If you do happen to go and take pictures, I’ll be glad to post them on this site (giving credit, of course, to the source).

K.R. in the Blogosphere: Enter a Raffle to Win a Trip to Rocky Pastures

The Maine Humanities Council has put together a wonderful raffle for a tour of Kenneth Roberts’ Rocky Pastures estate.  If you win, you also receive a lunch at Arundle Wharf, and a basket of “good Maine books.”  Hurry, though!  They are raffling only 100 tickets, so get yours!

You can purchase your ticket on-line at the following link: Kenneth Roberts Rocky Pastures Tour.

Kenneth Roberts' Rocky Pastures. Courtesy Maine Humanities Council

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