What do you carry with you from Haverford?
I had so many great experiences at Haverford. In terms of academics, I think about Dr. Erskine a lot because he was such a stickler about grammar. Most of all, I learned an expectation of excellence, which was started at home but reinforced at Haverford. I wasn’t okay with adequate. People around me were doing interesting things and exploring new ideas and trying new things, and I applied that same standard to myself. I carried that with me to college and I certainly bring it to the office.
Talk about your work with the Raab Collection.
We buy and sell unique important historical documents from the last 700, 800 years. I see our role as making sure that history survives from one generation to the next, and also that we find all of these documents a good home. We scour the world looking for these lost pieces of history. Then we buy the items that move us and find them worthy homes with people who want to be in the presence of a document signed by someone like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington.
We acquired a letter last year that was written by a 24-year-old Winston Churchill when he was a prisoner of war during the Boer War in South Africa. Churchill had passed the letter to his captor, H.G. Spaarwater. More than 100 years later, Spaarwater’s granddaughter contacted our firm with the original letter. It then traveled more than 8,000 miles from South Africa to our offices in Ardmore. It took no fewer than six people located in two countries in two different hemispheres to ensure this piece of history survived to be written about.
Nathan Raab '96 (third from left) pictured at his Haverford graduation, with his family and brother Jonas '98 (left).
What’s next for you and the business?
I’m currently under contract with a major publisher to write a book on what we do. We’ve met some really interesting characters and uncovered remarkable treasures all around the world. I hope to inspire people to be on the hunt with me for history.
We’re always trying to find and be inspired by different pieces. I never know what’s going to happen when I get on the phone with someone. It could be a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson or it could be someone looking to expand their collection from the 1800s. Every day is different, and I try to start each day with fresh eyes and an open mind.
How do you stay connected to the Haverford community?
Haverford builds a strong sense of community and I have great memories of my time there. I was part of such a small graduating class – there were less than 60 of us – so I got to know a lot of my classmates really well. Most of us still stay in touch, and there’s a group of us that still get together regularly. I’m local to the area, so I bike by Haverford every day!
Nathan Raab ’96 is a principal at the Raab Collection, a historian, and a nationally recognized expert who is helping to build many of the great public and private historical manuscript collections in the country. He has worked with, among others, the Library of Congress and the British Library, and has advised the families of historical figures on the treasures that have descended to them, including Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James K. Polk, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, Gerald Ford, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, senior leadership in the Civil War, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nathan is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, where he writes the blog, “Historically Speaking.” He is co-author of the definitive work on historical document authenticity, In the Presence of History, and is on the Board of Directors of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.