IOWA Magazine | 05-14-2024

How Iowa’s Sandy Boyd Became Collector-In-Chief

1 minute read
An election year exhibit highlights the former University of Iowa leader’s deep collection of books and memorabilia on American presidents.
Presidental ephemera from the Boyd collection PHOTOS COURTESY UI COLLEGE OF LAW The UI Law Library houses the Boyd Presidential Collection, an eclectic look at the U.S. presidency that was curated by the late law professor and university leader Sandy Boyd.
Alt text

Willard “Sandy” Boyd’s fascination for presidential collectibles began when he was a law student at the University of Minnesota. Passing by a bookstore window one day, a large portfolio of lithographs featuring U.S. presidents caught his eye. Boyd (81LHD), a history enthusiast, felt compelled to make the purchase, sparking a lifelong hobby.

Boyd went on to become a president in his own right, first at the University of Iowa and then at the Field Museum in Chicago. Over the course of his career, he amassed nearly 2,500 books about U.S. presidents and a diverse assortment of artifacts and ephemera before his death in 2022 at age 95. 

In his memoir, A Life on the Middle West’s Never-Ending Frontier (2019, UI Press), Boyd reflected on how his collection grew while leading the UI from 1969-81. “Whenever I was away from Iowa City, I frequented secondhand bookstores,” he wrote.

The Boyd Presidential Collection is featured in an exhibit through August inside the Boyd Law Building and in a digital presentation celebrating the life and legacy of the UI’s 15th president. The collection previously lived in Boyd’s office at the Field Museum, says Noëlle Sinclair (89BA, 93MA, 03JD, 07MA), head of special collections at the Law Library. But when Boyd retired from the museum in 1996 and returned to Iowa City to teach at the UI College of Law, he donated the trove to the library.

“It’s really an eclectic collection that Sandy put together based on things that he was interested in reading,” says Sinclair, who curated the exhibit as a tribute to her former mentor. “I’m almost certain that he read most, if not all, of these books.”

As this year’s presidential election approaches, let’s explore some of the items and oddities in Boyd’s collection, which continues to grow through new acquisitions by the Law Library.

View items from the Boyd collection

1 / 7

Reagan slippers

2 / 7

Truman ashtray

3 / 7

Presidential Books

4 / 7

Lincoln bust

5 / 7

Ford pin

6 / 7

Obama paper dolls

7 / 7

Hoover thimble

Boyd often received gifts from friends who knew about his penchant for presidents, including these unusual slippers depicting Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Ronald Reagan, who called Iowa football games as an announcer for radio stations in Davenport and Des Moines in the 1930s, appointed Boyd in 1988 as chair of the Institute of Museum Services board.
President Gerald Ford—whose 1976 campaign handed out these buttons—appointed Boyd to a six-year term on the National Council on the Arts that year.
The collection includes presidential documents compiled in multi-volume sets.
Abraham Lincoln is prominently featured in Boyd’s collection, including this bust. In Boyd’s memoir, he details how over spring break in 1970, he and his family visited Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois. There, Boyd discovered that Illinois’ Old State Capitol was designed by the same architect as Iowa’s Old Capitol. The former Illinois capitol had recently been restored, which sparked the idea to move the UI president’s office out of the Old Capitol to Jessup Hall, then revive Old Cap, a plan that took shape during Boyd’s presidency.
Boyd wrote in his autobiography that Harry Truman was the first presidential candidate he voted for. Boyd, who once saw Truman speak in St. Paul, Minnesota, later in life served as chair of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum Institute. “He was a voracious reader and had a sense of history,” Boyd wrote of Truman. “Moreover, he was not afraid to make decisions, and, unlike many, he took responsibility for those decisions. Never before or since in my lifetime has a president touched me so personally.”
Items in the collection from Barack Obama’s presidency include a set of paper dolls and a ticket to the former president’s 2010 appearance at the UI Field House, where he spoke about health care reform.
This aluminum thimble, inscribed with the slogan “Home Happiness Hoover,” was created for the 1928 campaign of Iowa-born president Herbert Hoover. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library is just 12 miles away from Iowa City in Hoover’s hometown of West Branch.
Join our email list
Get the latest news and information for alumni, fans, and friends of the University of Iowa.

View More of the Collection

See more items from Boyd’s presidential collection and learn about his life and career in this digital presentation.

View More of the Collection

See more items from Boyd’s presidential collection and learn about his life and career in this digital presentation.

Join our email list
Get the latest news and information for alumni, fans, and friends of the University of Iowa.
Related Articles

We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies in accordance with our Privacy Statement unless you have disabled them in your browser.