Historian, Documents Expert H. Bartholomew Cox

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 12, 2007

Henry Bartholomew Cox, 69, a historian and lawyer who helped recover more than $250,000 worth of documents stolen from the Thomas A. Edison historical site, died of Alzheimer's disease April 8 at his home in Fort Washington.

Dr. Cox, an appraiser and collector who owned several early phonographs made by Edison, was alerted in 1984 by a North Carolina dealer that a California professor was willing to sell several rare documents signed by the famous inventor. The dealer bought one $600 sketch from the Californian and showed it to Dr. Cox.

"Bart recognized it and said it simply cannot be anything else" but documents missing from the federal historical site in New Jersey since 1976, said his wife of 33 years, Hannah Caffery Cox.

Working with the FBI, Dr. Cox and the dealer arranged a sting. Phillip Petersen, a former Stanford University language professor who had been fired for embezzling university funds, was arrested by the FBI. He pleaded guilty to the theft of more than 143 binders stuffed with unique Edison documents detailing the development of the phonograph and inventions related to it.

Dr. Cox received a Distinguished Service Award from the Department of the Interior for his role in the recovery of the documents.

The native Washingtonian and graduate of the Landon School collected manuscripts and documents, originally focusing on those from the signers of the Declaration of Independence, later expanding into presidential memorabilia and artifacts of early 20th century inventors, musicians and political figures. He also collected and restored antique cars, and his 1910 Cadillac, a high school graduation present, is still in running condition.

During his three years as a historian in the State Department in the late 1960s, Dr. Cox produced a study of protocol that is considered the standard on the topic. At the National Archives from 1971 to 1975, he was with the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and served as chief of the bicentennial program.

Dr. Cox was a graduate of Princeton University and received a master's degree in 1962 and a doctorate in 1967, both in history, from George Washington University. He also received a law degree from GWU in 1976.

He wrote a book for the American Bar Association, "War, Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Power 1829-1901" (1976), as well as articles and reviews of topics including constitutional and copyright law. After law school, though, Dr. Cox worked primarily as an appraiser.

"He loved appraising manuscripts," said his wife, his only immediate survivor. About 1980, a friend at the Dumbarton House in Georgetown asked Dr. Cox to look at a recently discovered document. "He took one look at it and said, 'Oh, that's a draft of Monroe's first inaugural address.' He was that good at being able to recognize handwriting."

He was past president of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati and founder of the Society of the Cincinnati's book prize, now named for him. He won first place in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' Nathan Burkan Memorial Competition for his work on copyright law and received the Victor Gondos Prize from the Society of American Archivists.

Dr. Cox was a member of First Church of Christ Scientist in Alexandria and for many years taught Sunday school at the Lorton prison. He was a member of the Chevy Chase Club and the Washington Literary Society. He also raised polled Hereford cattle at the Potomac Valley farm that had been in his family for four generations.

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