The Indiana Jones of Paper

Donna Angel, Millionaire Magazine - 5/1/2000
University Archives, founded by John Reznikoff in 1979, is the leading document and manuscript firm with a worldwide reputation for appraisals and authentication of historic texts. The company, which has bought and sold rare documents from its inception, has garnered an impeccable reputation for integrity and authority in the field.

They specialize in American history, dealing with presidents, world government, sports, entertainment, literature, African Americana, science, women in history, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War among their major fields expertise. University Archives also buys and sells valuable letters, documents, and family correspondences in every area.

Although the value of certain items may be immediately apparent, the value of others might only appear under a scholarly microscope. Sellers possessing items of unknown value are encouraged to use the company's free appraisal service. Experts have encountered numerous sellers whose supposedly "worthless" possessions turned out to be very worthwhile indeed.

University Archives has founded its reputation on over twenty years of treating clients courteously, promptly, and with faultless integrity. They maintain an extensive reference library and employ a very knowledgeable staff that meticulously researches every item bought and sold to verify its significance and authenticity. They do not reveal the sources of their acquisitions, and they respect the client's privacy.

At the very heart of the business' success is its founder and president, John Reznikoff, a noted authority on the subject of rare documents and manuscripts. His articles have been featured 1-1 Pen and Quill, Military Trader Magazine, and Manuscripts; and he is a contributing editor of Autograph Collector, the leading publication in the field. While attending Fordham University in the late 1970's, with a double major in political science and anthropology, he began his business career.

Reznikoff established The University Companies in 1979 as a part-time dealer in rare stamps and autographs. His authority and experience are virtually unmatched, and he has been involved in some of the country's highest-profile cases involving the appraisal and/or authentication of historical documents. In the civil action against the Government, in which the family of Richard M. Nixon sought $210 million in compensation for the former president's papers, Reznikoff was consulted as the leading expert for the Department of Justice on authenticity and value. The papers and artifacts of George Pickett of "Pickett's Charge" fame, the Johnson family papers, which included multiple letters of John and Abigail Adams; the Hemingway papers of A. E. Hotchner, as well as Hemingway's first book; and the Charles A. Lindbergh checks that purchased the "Spirit of St. Louis," all have come under his exacting lens.

Visiting University Archives is like losing oneself in history. The walls are filled with framed documents, letters, and autographs of the famous, while vaults hold notebooks belonging to Civil War, literary, sports, and entertainment figures, as well as signers of the Declaration of Independence. Just give John Reznikoff a name, and he will respond by presenting a letter, canceled check, book, or photograph bearing the important personage's signature. He spends his entire day searching for such relics.

People have been collecting and saving autographs for centuries. Writing materials were rare and expensive until about 200 years ago, so recipients of signed letters and documents kept them. In a natural process of evolution, collecting for fun went to collecting for scholarship, which then entered even more rarefied realms, especially if the signatures belonged to the rich or famous. Now our civilization is caught up in electronic mail, and Reznikoff wisely notes that the beauty and personal touch of handwritten letters will become more of a rarity and therefore even more treasured by lovers of history.

Reznikoff travels, makes contacts with potential sources, and eventually locates the documents he desires, after which various of his employees at the offices in Stamford, Connecticut begin the process of authentication. Knowledge of the history of paper, ink, and watermarks are necessary to the process of discovering whether or not signatures are authentic. So is a familiarity with the specific characteristics of a particular writer's signature or a preference for the color of paper used. Scientific instruments like microscopes, ultraviolet light, and micrometers are also invaluable to the verification process.

Still other instruments can become a part of the history the Archives document. Reznikoff's latest coup, which became official as we were going to press, is the acquisition of over sixty pens, used by presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Gerald R. Ford, to sign some of the most important legislation in American history. It is the most extensive private collection of presidential bill-signing pens ever purchased, and includes pens used by Lincoln to create the Homestead Act, by John F. Kennedy to create the Peace Corps, and by Harry S Truman to sign the Act for the Use of Atomic Energy in 1945. Several pens belonged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (to enact the Social Security Bill, the Act for Slum Clearance, the Crime Bill, and the Security and Exchange Commission Act). Several others belonged to Lyndon B. Johnson: one to initiate the Medicare Bill, a second to create the Civil Rights Act. With still another, Gerald Ford posthumously restored American citizenship to Robert E. Lee.

"The idea that a president, with the stroke of his pen, could open the American west to settlement, control the use of atomic energy, or create a system that would enable millions of people to have income at retirement, is simply incredible," Reznikoff marvels. "No army has ever exhibited the power of these pens."

Few paper depositories have ever exhibited the sweep of Reznikoff's brainchild. John Reznikoff characterizes himself as the Indiana Jones of paper: "I go out and look for treasure." University Archives is one treasure he created long ago.