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His latest book is Safeguarding History; Trailblazing Adventures Inside the Worlds of Collecting and Forging History, with a Foreword by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Safeguarding History, a memoir, is at its core an adventure story – and the inside story – of the world’s most successful dealer in historical letters and documents, as well as the leading expert in handwriting forgery detection.
The “adventure” was, and continues to be, a more multi-layered and multi-faceted one than ever suggested by his public image. The reader sees how his early outsider status inspired him to better understand human nature, and to use his natural cleverness to find workarounds for situations that might have discouraged or even crushed others. There is rare access to his thought processes in life as in business, including his often-unconventional methods, and – without him saying so directly – to his great humanity.
From humble beginnings, and thanks to a single coin discovered in the change at his parents’ drug store, when he was 11 years old, Rendell’s ascent began. Soon he was a dealer, then as a teenager he went to the Caribbean to search for out-of-date coins, and then he discovered the world of historical letters and documents, once an insular, reclusive field, which he modernized over his 60-year career.
His excitement for collecting transformed his life and the lives of many others. He became an expert on forgery detection. He learned the art of collecting. His collection of World War II artifacts led to the creation of The International Museum of World War II. His life-long fascination with the West is a current collecting interest.
Counterbalancing these intellectual and business pursuits is Rendell’s interest in nature and in sports. Always in a hurry, he was a competitive speedskater when he was 11 years old and now enjoys helicopter skiing in Western Canada and windsurfing the big waves in Hawaii.
About forgery detection, Rendell writes
“Understanding what you want to believe in a situation, what you are predisposed to believe, warns you that this is where your thinking is the most vulnerable.”
About his love of adventure, Rendell writes:
“I have been told that the story of my life will be an adventure saga in many different venues. I hope it is an adventure story in exploring yourself and in understanding the importance of looking at situations in unconventional ways, the importance of creativity in everything and, most importantly, the importance of people.”
Rendell says he was spurred to write his memoirs not by the urging of publishing houses but by a meeting with the first participants in his Spark Foundation scholarship program. Every summer Rendell makes it possible for poor students from his old neighborhood to attend quality summer programs to expand their horizons. Meeting with these students left Rendell “emotionally floored by the similarities in their hopes and perceived limitations with how I felt 65 years earlier.”
In her Foreword, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes:
“This compelling memoir is the story of a boy who rises above adversity with ambition, a curiosity that allows him to keep learning his entire life, a powerful work ethic, an ability to think outside the box, and most importantly, a recognition that reputation and character are the true driving forces of success.”
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns:
“We are drawn to historical documents, artifacts and autographs because they represent a portal into worlds and people no longer with us. We feel a secret connection. How fortunate it is then to gain intimate access to the complicated life of one of our greatest collectors of historical artifacts. Ken Rendell courageously shares the triumphs and tragedies of his life. Bravo.”
Douglas Brinkley, author, professor and historian and commentator:
“Safeguarding History is a dazzling memoir by the world’s most venerated rare manuscript dealer and document collector. Whether Rendell is appraising Martin Luther King, Jr.’s papers, declaring the Hitler Diaries a hoax, or building a world-class library for Bill Gates, he is always the consummate professional. Every page of this adventure book sparkles with wisdom. A must read.”
Actor and writer Tom Hanks calls Ken Rendell,:
“A personal repository for the actual holy grail documents of great repute and I would recommend that anybody pay attention to him.”
New York Times bestselling historian Andrew Roberts:
“Ken Rendell doesn’t just think outside the box, he’s lived outside as this gripping memoir shows. He’s the manuscript whisperer.”
Steve Ambrose, author of Undaunted Courage and Band of Brothers:
“Ken Rendell is the greatest collector in the world.”
Determining Authenticity: Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents, University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.
In Forging History, a classic reference book in the field of historical letters and documents, Kenneth Rendell compellingly demonstrates that the authentication of historical documents and letters depends on analysis rather than intuition. He offers historical and contemporary examples, analyzes three major forgeries of recent times, and argues that an expert can prove conclusively and demonstrate that a historical document is either genuine or forged.
Determining Value: History Comes to Life: Collecting Historical Letters and Documents, University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Kenneth Rendell, whose experience in determining value is without equal, guides the reader through all aspects of collecting irresistible letters, manuscripts, and documents in virtually all subject areas from ancient times through the twentieth century. He discusses why collectors acquire these tangible links to the people they admire; the material available on the market; the people who are attracted to the field; where manuscripts are to be found; ways in which the value of documents is determined, and the care and preservation of collections. He also provides a mass of information on the type, availability, and rarity of autograph material for more than one thousand prominent personalities in various subject areas. This is a comprehensive reference work on determining value.
The Power of Anti-Semitism: THE MARCH TO THE HOLOCAUST, 1919-1939, companion book to the 2016 New York Historical Society exhibition, with a Foreword by New York Historical Society President and CEO Louise Mirrer, Boston, 2016.
The exhibition, drawn from the collection of the International Museum of World War II, was regarded as “powerful” in its offering of a new perspective on the rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe. In her foreward, Louise Mirrer writes:
“Most of us today associate the dogma and its corresponding policies with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, beginning in the early 1930’s. But the extraordinary collection assembled by world-renowned collector Kenneth Rendell for the International Museum of World War II, Boston reveals a different timeline…This new – and path-breaking…. understanding of the trajectory of anti-Semitism in Europe is without a doubt of tremendous historical significance.”
World War II: Saving the Reality, with Foreword by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Whitman Publishing, 2009. Like the museum (International Museum of World War II) that inspired it, World War II: Saving the Reality offers a dramatic new way to experience life as it was during the war. Inside you will find replicas of the museum’s amazing artifacts, telling their stories alongside compelling text and photographs. Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her forward:
“This magnificent book takes the reader on an emotional journey back in time to World War II. This this unparalleled collection of original letters and artifacts, we follow the story of the war, not as historians after the fact, but by the side of the leaders and the people who lived and died during those dramatic years.”
The Great American West: Pursuing the American Dream, with Foreword by Senator Al Simpson. Whitman Publishing, 2013. The Great American West presents the original letters, diaries, and documents of the frontiersmen who sought the freedom of the West, all drawn from the collection of Kenneth W. Rendell. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Alan Simpson of Wyoming writes in the foreward:
“Ken Rendell’s concept of history is to open windows into the lives and times of people and to see them, events, and history as they experienced it. Their original letters and diaries bring us as close as possible to their lives.”
The Western Pursuit of the American Dream; Selections from the Collection of Kenneth W. Rendell, University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.The catalogue which accompanied the exhibition at the National Heritage Museum, 2004 – 2005. In the Preface, Kenneth Rendell describes how his boyhood vision of the West – high romanticized and driven by a desire to escape his overly crowded neighborhood – evolved into a dream of freedom and opportunity that inspired him with a sense of adventure not unlike the spirit of the first pioneers. Rather than cowboys and gunfighters, he writes that he was drawn to the beauty and openness of the landscape, “where a man could be whatever he could do.”
Atlas of World War II: History’s Greatest Conflict Revealed Through Rare Wartime Maps and New Cartography, National Geographic Books, 2018.
A unique work that for the first time combines new maps and wartime maps to trace the battles, campaigns, causes, and consequences of the most significant struggle of all time. In this one-of-a-kind atlas, National Geographic’s award-winning cartographers have created 100 new maps based on the latest military research and state-of-the-art digital mapping techniques. Of the 114 wartime maps that appear throughout this book, virtually all of them came from the collection formed by Kenneth Rendell in the International Museum of World War II. Kenneth Rendell Writes in the Foreword, “Understanding Wartime Maps”: “This National Geographic Atlas of World War II may contain more military intelligence than ever gathered in one book. The rare wartime maps in this book, many of them published here for the first time, show what military leaders knew at the moment. Their handwritten annotations, tracing developments day by day, place readers alongside those commanders and planners, who could not be sure how their maps would change as the action unfolded. Such wartime maps offer us a window into a time when critical, life-or-death decisions were made.”
The Secret History of World War II: Spies, Code Breakers, and Covert Operations, National Geographic Books, 2016.
The Secret History tells the incredible story of spies, code breakers, and commandos who conducted covert operations during history’s greatest conflict and altered its course. These dramatic stories are illustrated by hundreds of revealing photographs and artifacts – some of them never before published – that shed light on the war’s darkest secrets. Many of them come from the International Museum of World War II founded by Kenneth Rendell who writes in the foreword:
“World War II was truly a secret war…. Artifacts [from the museum] testify to the urge for secrecy and the anxiety that gripped people who had to watch their every word and were constantly on guard against spies, secret police, or surprise attack. Perhaps their worst fear of all was not knowing what they didn’t know.”
Ronald Reagan: An American Legend, Q. David Bowers, 2011.
Written for the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth, this richly illustrated volume traces Reagan’s career to center stage on the national political scene. In the Foreword, Kenneth Rendell writes:
“I have been involved in a great many important correspondences and collections, and none have been more memorable than the insight into the reality of Ronald Reagan’s personality that I experienced in reading handwritten drafts of letters he wrote as Governor of California, while running for President, and to his daughter Patti.”
Manuscripts: The First Twenty Years, Greenwood Press, 1984.
An anthology of articles and essays relating to the field of autographs and manuscripts from the quarterly journal of the Manuscript Society
Autographs and Manuscripts: A Collector’s Manual, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978.
Conceived as a basic reference work, and a unique undertaking in its field at the time, the Collector’s Manual consists of articles written by contributors who have been chosen for their expertise in certain areas of collecting.