One famous anecdote about FDR is that he collected stamps. This for instance plays a role in Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America and the recent movie Hyde Park on Hudson (starring Bill Murray). This picture of Roosevelt with his stamp collection is iconic, and strangely, to my mind, it’s actually iconic in its current form (i.e. cut out, so without background, which makes it look rather eerily unreal).
I read a story (here) arguing that Roosevelt was not actually a stamp collector, but merely posed as one in front of the hungry press. I’m not sure I believe the story – it’s rather based on hearsay, and I know many other authoritative Roosevelt sources that do say he was a lifelong stamp collector. This includes the FDR Library and Museum, which says on its FAQ page:
What lifelong hobby did FDR pursue?
Stamp collecting was one of FDR’s lifelong hobbies. His interest began when he was eight years old and his mother passed her collection on to him. He enjoyed stamps, he said, because of their link with geography and history, not for their intrinsic value. While recovering from polio, he spent many bedridden hours arranging and annotating thousands of specimens. As President, there was scarcely a day when he did not spend some time with his collection.
Whatever may be wrong with or odd about the FDR Library as an institution, I’m inclined to believe that the FDR trivia they spread are correct. But it would be very interesting if this was actually not true, because it could shed light on the kind of personal details Roosevelt was offering to Americans about himself and/or on the degree of interest from the media and society in such personal details, an interest that has actually continued every since his presidency. Greg Laden on his blog argues about the picture in which FDR looks at a stamp that “any real stamp collector can see the flaw in this photograph that belies the reality”. I’ve no idea what to think of this because I’m the very opposite of a real stamp collector, but maybe this is read by someone who knows more? I’d love to hear!