Priceless Exeter history … on eBay?

Pablo Barrutia '92 presents rare gifts to the Academy. 

By
Sarah Pruitt '95
July 25, 2022
Pablo Barrutia '92 presents gift to Academy

Principal Bill Rawson, Pablo Barrutia and Jack Herney

Sometime in 1772, John Phillips Esq. signed his name on the opening pages of his copy of Tristia, a collection of letters in verse by the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Nasonis, better known as Ovid. On Feb. 11, 1929, Edward S. Harkness affixed his signature to a certificate for 50 shares of preferred stock in the New London Ship and Engine Company. 

Few people would see the link between an 18th-century book in Latin and a stock certificate from one of the most fateful years in financial history. But when Pablo Barrutia ’92 stumbled on these items on the auction site eBay nearly a decade ago, he immediately took notice. “Among the things I’ve always got my eye out for is anything related to Exeter, given how much Exeter means to me,” he says. Barrutia guesses that Phillips most likely had the book in his collection in 1781, when he and his wife, Elizabeth, founded Phillips Exeter Academy. He also knew that Harkness signed that stock certificate just a year before his historic $5.8 million gift to the Academy. 

As a seasoned eBay user, Barrutia waited until the closing seconds of each auction to place his bid and snagged the book for just over $100. “Of course, it’s priceless from any Exonian’s perspective,” he says.

In May, Barrutia returned to Exeter for his 30th reunion and chose the occasion to donate the two items — along with a photograph of celebrated philanthropist William Boyce Thompson, class of 1890 — so current and future Exonians can benefit from these links to the school’s history. Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08 accepted the donation on the school’s behalf, along with Magee Lawhorn, head of Archives and Special Collections at the Class of 1945 Library. History Instructor Emeritus Jack Herney ’46, ’69, ’71, ’74, ’92, ’95 (Hon.), whom Barrutia has consulted over the years about Exeter-related items he has considered acquiring, was also on hand for the occasion. “I’m imagining Greek and Latin students coming over and getting to look at and learn from this,” Rawson says of the book. “This is a direct connection between our Classics students, present and past.” 

Lawhorn believes that this edition of Tristia is the first volume from the founder’s personal library to join the school’s collections. “Most of our collections come from individual donors,” Lawhorn says. “We don’t have the means to really seek out and purchase rare books, so we get excited when we can ingest them, especially one with this provenance.”

Barrutia’s enthusiastic support of the Academy goes far beyond his eBay acquisitions. Inspired by his experience as a four-year scholarship student, he established the Pablo E. Barrutia and Ben Eugrin Scholarship Fund with an Exonian friend and fellow financial aid recipient. He also hosts regular recruiting events for potential Exeter students, particularly from underrepresented communities, at his home in Milwaukee. In 2016, the Academy honored Barrutia’s contributions with the President’s Award.

Now that the book, stock certificate and photograph are safely in the Jay Whipple Special Collections Vault, Barrutia is keeping an eye out for other great finds. He has amassed an impressive collection of artifacts related to the history of Wall Street — particularly in his own field, high-yield bonds — but Exeter memorabilia will always have his heart. “I’m forever grateful for the friendships I’ve established and the doors that were opened,” Barrutia says. “Without Exeter in my life, who knows where I’d be?”   

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the summer 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.