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Meet the Most Devoted Fan of TIME’s Person of the Year Issue

4 minute read

Every December, TIME names a Person of the Year. It’s a decision that animates the hundreds of people who work at the publication. It’s also a pretty big deal to a man named Ken Adelman. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and arms control director for President Ronald Reagan has every issue since 1927 framed on the walls of his Aspen, Colo., home. He has obtained 57 autographs so far.

“It’s a wonderful stroll through history,” says the 69-year-old, who started collecting the annual issue — known as “Man of the Year” until 1999 — in the early 1960s as a high schooler. Over the next 12 years the news buff ordered as many back issues as possible from TIME and combed used magazine stores for the rest.

A signed copy of the 1968 TIME Men of the Year cover from Ken Adelman's collection
A signed copy of the 1968 TIME Men of the Year cover from Ken Adelman's collectionCourtesy of Ken Adelman

The collection sat in the attic of his Washington, D.C. home until he shipped all 77 covers to his Aspen house in 2004 (where a hungry bear rifled through the package on the porch, damaging some of the inside pages.)

The former diplomat claims TV director Jay Sandrich (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) told him the collection was “great, but would be even greater” if he got them autographed or found autographed copies. “I went on a jihad to get signatures after that,” Adelman says.

He had a few already. When Harry S. Truman visited Grinnell College while Adelman was a student there, the younger man had the opportunity to accompany the former president on his signature morning constitutional (a walk at a brisk 120 steps-per-minute), and the politician signed a copy of the 1948 issue over breakfast. Dwight D. Eisenhower also signed the 1959 issue during a campus visit. Reagan inscribed the 1980 and the 1983 issues when Adelman worked for him. The 1999 “Person of the Year,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, signed the cover during a fundraiser for the Aspen Institute at Adelman’s house. He even found a creative solution to the 2006 “You” cover: Adelman, his wife, and their daughters and their husbands signed the issue.

But to snag the others, he worked his contacts. An overseas development connection got the 2014 “Ebola Fighters” issue to Liberian doctor Jerry Brown, who wrote “to a fellow Africanist” on it as a tribute to Adelman’s time spent living on the continent. When he was on the board of the International Crisis Group, someone helped him get anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela’s signature on the 1993 “Men of the Year” cover (shared with F.W. de Klerk, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin). Former Ambassador Robert Blackwill helped Adelman get Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature on the 2007 issue during a conference in Moscow. And a nephew of Adelman’s who worked at the Gates Foundation secured Bill and Melinda Gates‘s autographs on the 2005 “Persons of the Year” cover (“The Good Samaritans”), while Adelman personally cornered Bono after a D.C. dinner function, where the rock star “signed it and drew glasses over his face.”

TIME's 1998 Person of the Year cover featuring Kenneth Starr and Bill Clinton
A signed copy of the 1998 TIME Men of the Year cover from Ken Adelman's collectionCourtesy of Ken Adelman

The hardest autograph to get? Signatures from the 1998 “Men of the Year,” President Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel whose investigation led to Clinton’s impeachment trial. Logistically speaking, it was complicated to pull off, given Adelman himself assumed it would be a long shot to get the former president to “sign an impeachment cover” and Starr, whom Adelman calls a friend, doubting Clinton would sign anything with his name on it. So Adelman was pleasantly surprised when the cover he sent to Clinton “came back two weeks later signed ‘to my good friend.'” He sent that to Starr and told him to write, “To Ken Adelman — A good friend, now with the only cover both of us signed.”

Autograph dealers have helped him track down copies signed by deceased figures — like one from 1963 “Man of the Year” Martin Luther King, Jr. — but others are near hopeless cases.

Like Queen Elizabeth’s signature. Adelman says he was told TIME’s 1952 “Woman of the Year” only agrees to sign official documents. There are a few autographs Adelman covets above the others. The diplomat is on the hunt for autographs from Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. “I go on the Internet every day to see if there’s a signed copy,” he says. “Some day there will be.”

See Every Person Of The Year Cover Ever

Photograph by Mark Mahaney for TIME
Portrait by Jason Seiler for TIME
Greta Thunberg Time Person of the Year Cover
Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva for TIME
2018: The GuardiansPhotographs by Moises Saman-Magnum Photos for TIME
TIME Person of the Year 2017: The Silence BreakersBilly & Hells for TIME
2016: Donald Trump person of the year
2016: Donald TrumpTIME
TIME person of the year angela merkel 2015
2015: Angela MerkelTIME
TIME Person of the Year 2014 Magazine Cover: The Ebola Fighters 141222
2014: The Ebola FightersTIME
2013: Pope Francis
2013: Pope FrancisTIME
2012: Barack Obama
2012: President Barack ObamaTIME
2011: The Protester
2011: The ProtesterTIME
2010: Mark Zuckerberg
2010: Mark Zuckerberg TIME
2009: Ben Bernanke TIME
2008: Barack Obama
2008: President Barack ObamaTIME
2007: Vladimir Putin
2007: Vladimir PutinTIME
2006: YouTIME
2005: The Good Samaritans: Bill Gates, Bono, Melinda Gates
2005: The Good Samaritans: Bill Gates, Bono, Melinda GatesTIME
2004: President George W. Bush
2004: President George W. BushTIME
2003: The American Soldier
2003: The American SoldierTIME
2002: The Whistleblowers
2002: The Whistleblowers: Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley and Sherron Watkins TIME
2001: Rudy Giuliani
2001: Rudy Giuliani TIME
2000: President George W. Bush
2000: President George W. BushTIME
1999: Jeff Bezos
1999: Jeff BezosTIME
1998: Kenneth Starr ad Bill Clinton
1998: Kenneth Starr and Bill ClintonTIME
1997: Andrew Grove
1997: Andrew GroveTIME
1996: Dr. David HoTIME
1995: Newt GingrichTIME
1994: Pope John Paul II
1994: Pope John Paul IITIME
1993: The Peacemakers: Yitzhak Rabin, Nelson Mandela, F.W. De Klerk, Yasser ArafatTIME
1992: President Bill ClintonTIME
1991: Ted Turner
1991: Ted TurnerTIME
1990: President George H.W. BushTIME
1989: Mikhail Gorbachev
1989: Mikhail GorbachevTIME
1988: Endangered EarthTIME
1987: Mikhail Gorbachev
1987: Mikhail GorbachevTIME
1986: Corazon Aquino
1986: Corazon AquinoTIME
1985: Deng Xiaoping
1985: Deng XiaopingTIME
1984: Peter Ueberroth
1984: Peter UeberrothTIME
1983: President Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov
1983: President Ronald Reagan and Yuri AndropovTIME
1982: The ComputerTIME
1981: Lech Wałęsa
1981: Lech Wałęsa TIME
1980: President Ronald Reagan
1980: President Ronald ReaganTIME
1979: Ayatollah Khomeini
1979: Ayatollah KhomeiniTIME
1978: Deng Xiaoping
1978: Deng XiaopingTIME
1977: Anwar Sadat
1977: Anwar SadatTIME
1976: President Jimmy CarterTIME
1975: American Women
1975: American WomenTIME
1974: King FaisalTIME
1973: John Sirica
1973: John SiricaTIME
1972: President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger
1972: President Richard Nixon and Henry KissingerTIME
1971: President Richard Nixon
1971: President Richard NixonTIME
1970: Willy Brandt
1970: Willy BrandtTIME
1969: The Middle Americans
1969: The Middle AmericansTIME
1968: The Apollo 8 astronauts
1968: The Apollo 8 AstronautsTIME
1967: President Lyndon B. Johnson
1967: President Lyndon B. JohnsonTIME
1966: Men and Women 25 and UnderTIME
1965: William Westmoreland
1965: William WestmorelandTIME
1964: Lyndon B. Johnson
1964: Lyndon B. JohnsonTIME
1963: Martin Luther King, Jr.
1963: Martin Luther King, Jr.TIME
1962: Pope John XXIII
1962: Pope John XXIIITIME
1961: President John F. Kennedy
1961: President John F. KennedyTIME
1960: U.S. Scientists
1960: U.S. ScientistsTIME
1959: President Dwight D. Eisenhower
1959: President Dwight D. EisenhowerTIME
1958: Charles de Gaulle
1958: Charles de GaulleTIME
1957: Nikita Khrushchev
1957: Nikita KhrushchevTIME
1956: The Hungarian Freedom FighterTIME
1955: Harlow Curtice
1955: Harlow CurticeTIME
1954: John Foster Dulles
1954: John Foster DullesTIME
1953: Konrad Adenauer
1953: Konrad AdenauerTIME
1952: Queen Elizabeth II
1952: Queen Elizabeth IITIME
1951: Mohammad Mossadegh
1951: Mohammad MossadeghTIME
1950: The American Fighting Man
1950: The American Fighting Man TIME
1949: Winston Churchill
1949: Winston ChurchillTIME
1948: President Harry S. Truman
1948: President Harry S. TrumanTIME
1947: George MarshallTIME
1946: James F. Byrnes
1946: James F. ByrnesTIME
1945: President Harry S. Truman
1945: President Harry S. TrumanTIME
1944: Dwight D. Eisenhower
1944: Dwight D. EisenhowerTIME
1943: George Marshall
1943: George MarshallTIME
1942: Joseph Stalin
1942: Joseph StalinTIME
1941: President Franklin D. Roosevelt
1941: President Franklin D. RooseveltTIME
1940: Winston Churchill
1940: Winston ChurchillTIME
1939: Joseph Stalin
1939: Joseph StalinTIME
1938: Adolf Hitler
1938: Adolf HitlerTIME
1937: Chiang Kai-shek and Soong May-ling
1937: Chiang Kai-shek and Soong May-lingTIME
1936: Wallis Simpson
1936: Wallis SimpsonTIME
1935: Haile Selassie
1935: Haile SelassieTIME
1934: President Franklin D. Roosevelt
1934: President Franklin D. RooseveltTIME
1933: Hugh S. Johnson
1933: Hugh S. JohnsonTIME
1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt
1932: Franklin D. RooseveltTIME
1931: Pierre Laval
1931: Pierre LavalTIME
1930: Mahatma Gandhi
1930: Mahatma GandhiTIME
1929: Owen D. Young
1929: Owen D. YoungTIME
1928: Walter Chrysler
1928: Walter ChryslerTIME
TIME Man of the Year 1927: Charles Lindbergh
1927: Charles LindberghTIME



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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com