Fans eager to buy Fillmore memorabilia

November 17, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

LAGUNA HILLS, Calif. -- He may not get any respect from historians, but an estate sale for a man known as the "The Rodney Dangerfield of presidents" has fans from across the country clamoring for a piece of Millard G. Fillmore.

Flying here this week will be a range of collectors, from scholars to a group of almost cult-like followers of the 13th president, who is seen by some historians as one of the most ineffective chief executives in the nation's history.

The estate sale Friday and Saturday has people excited because it is one of the rare occasions when the public will have an opportunity to purchase presidential belongings. Such sales are particularly rare on the West Coast.

"Obviously, anything from a presidential collection has a certain mystique," said Keith Melder, curator of political history at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. "These things don't come up for sale very often, and some areas, such as the Eastern seaboard, tend to monopolize the goods."

The personal effects include a presidential chair from the White House, property documents signed by Fillmore and an abalone shell-inlay chess table used by him.

More obscure household goods will also be on sale, such as a 19th-century silver bun-warmer, a gold-head walking cane and fireplace mantel statues. Some common items, such as a set of bone china, have been difficult to confirm as belonging to Fillmore.

Although Mr. Melder warns that the estate has little historical significance, that scarcely matters to Fillmore fans such as Robert Coop, founder of the 200-member Western States Millard G. Fillmore Appreciation Society in Walnut Creek, Calif.

"When I heard about the bad rap he's gotten as a president, I said, 'Hey, that's my kind of guy,' " said Mr. Coop, a now-retired city manager of Newport Beach, Calif. "And I like his name. Millard Fillmore. It kind of rolls off your tongue."

Mr. Coop only intended his group to be an inside joke among friends, but when a newspaper columnist wrote about the society, "we got responses from all over the country -- people writing, calling, sending in money," he said.

Mr. Coop's -- and other fan clubs -- across the country celebrate Fillmore's memory with a party on his birthday every Jan. 7.

Vice President Fillmore became president after the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850 and presided over pre-Civil War America for nearly three controversy-filled years.

Fillmore has also been criticized for running for the presidency in 1856 under the American party, which polarized the election over ethnic issues. Known as the "Know-Nothing" party, the group campaigned to stem the tide of immigrants from Europe, particularly Irish Catholics.

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