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Holding one of Theodore Roosevelt’s campaign books is much like touching a piece of history. The tiny yellow booklet with a printed drawing of the face of the trust buster is no bigger than the palm of your hand and contains a summary of the 26th president’s political thinking. The thin, aging pages are crowded with type, discussing Roosevelt’s political platform. “Facts about the candidate” is not only a chance to get a glimpse of United States political life at the beginning of the 20th century, but also an opportunity to feel that you actually were in one of Roosevelt’s political rallies in 1904. The book is one of about 300 collected by Miami lawyer Ronald Ravikoff. All the tomes in his collection are connected to a former president — written, owned, about or signed by. Ravikoff, a commercial litigation attorney, says books are not merely pieces to be read, but objects to be valued for “the connection they provide with history.” The managing partner of Zuckerman Spaeder has been a book collector for more than 10 years. He talks about his books as if they were works of art. Just like some people want to own an original painting, Ravikoff enjoys owning rare and antique books. The collection contains a variety of books, from a book on mining written by Herbert Hoover when he was a professor of engineering to a copy of “Strategy of Peace” signed by John F. Kennedy. The books are organized chronologically, starting with George Washington and ending with William Clinton. The only president missing from his collection: George W. Bush. Ravikoff acquired the books through dealers and catalogues. He was inspired to start his collection by a former colleague who collected what are called modern firsts — first-edition books published between 1900 and the present. Because of his love of history, Ravikoff decided to focus his collection on U.S. presidents. One of Ravikoff’s favorites is a biography of George Washington written by Woodrow Wilson while he was a professor at Princeton University, well before he became the 28th president. What makes this 1896 book valuable to him is Wilson’s inscription, because it reveals some of his personal thoughts about the first president. “There is a quality of greatness. Without this poise and vigour of moral traits, no man, however great his acts, can himself be great. It was Washington’s greatness, rather than anything he did, that has made him a moral force in the world forever.” Each of Ravikoff’s books has a special trait. One of the oldest books in his collection dates to 1787, when the United States was a young nation. The book is a first edition of “Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States” by John Adams. The book, which sports a brown leather cover with the gilt title on the spine, features some of Adams’ writings that contributed to the shaping of the U.S. Constitution. Ravikoff says that his collection is not a reflection on his personal views or preferences about U.S. presidents: “The books I collect are not a vote on their presidency. I collect books to touch history.” While Ravikoff is proud of his collection, he won’t discuss its value. He’s afraid someone might try to steal some of his more cherished holdings. According to several Web sites on book collecting, the economic value of rare books can sometimes be difficult to determine because their value depends so much on factors such as how many of a certain edition are in circulation and the condition of the book. A signature or inscription can increase the value of a book. But in the end, the main determining factor of a book’s value is just how much a collector is willing to pay. On Worldbookdealers.com, a Web site based in the United Kingdom, dealers are asking $2,000 for a “clean and bright” first edition of “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States.” The asking price for a first edition of “Hunting Trips of a Ranchman” by Theodore Roosevelt is $1,500, and the price for a first edition of John F. Kennedy’s “Why England Slept” is $500. But Ravikoff says his passion isn’t driven by the perceived value of a book. His collecting is about searching and finding those special books that are important to him.

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