Collecting has its Moments
An absurdly rare New Paltz item
By Bruce McKinney
For the past three years we have been building AE. The experience has been tough and fascinating. We thought we were simply going to capture information about books and put it in a database. In fact, we ended up developing a process that encompasses both finding the books in the marketplace, and running them through a filter of data that enables the buyer to make intelligent decisions. The AED (Americana Exchange Database), our original project, provides the data needed to make those decisions. It contains almost 1.2 million records, most including prices. The later project, MatchMaker, enables the buyer to find even obscure books and ephemera from the mass of offerings now available. Here are a few of my own recent purchases on eBay and ABE that further confirm the value of the AED as a database and MatchMaker, our suite of collector premium services, as a process.
On eBay two unique Ulster County [New York] items were offered by a merchant who usually sells lingerie and swimwear. In this case it was the descriptions that were scanty. These pieces are among the rarest Hudson Valley printed materials in existence but were offered with barely a line of description. One is the "History of the Huguenot Church and Settlement at New Paltz" by Rev. Charles H. Stitt, a 29-page pamphlet printed in Kingston, New York in 1863. The other is "Collections of The Ulster Historical Society, Volume I - Part 2" with a Kingston indicia and dated 1860.
The Stitt history is rare to the point of invisibility. The Lefevre History of New Paltz, first issued in 1903 and revised and enlarged in a second edition in 1909, mentions Rev. Stitt's tenure as Dominie of the Dutch Reformed Church but makes no mention of this history in its index. Neither of the historical societies in New Paltz and Kingston have copies or even awareness of it. Neither was it in the AED nor mentioned in the indexes of local and county histories. The item basically didn't exist until MatchMaker found it.
Both items came up as ten day auctions, closing 15 minutes apart, and I saw them both on day one. Until the final day nothing much happened. An occasional eBay bidder placed initial low bids, meeting the seller's minimum bids to open [$8.00], essentially agreeing to buy each item if no one else stepped in. With a few hours to go on day 10 I tested my ability to bid. I placed a small bid on the Stitt's over the then current bid, and soon saw the other bidder go to $20. With a minute to go, I placed a bid for $175 and bought the item for $32.99.
Fifteen minutes later the second item, Part 2 of Volume I of the Collections of the Ulster Historical Society was completing its 10 day run. This volume was described as 177 pages and in fact was not. The pagination begins on 77 and runs to 177 but the seller apparently only looked at the last page number. I suppose this gives me the right to return or to complain but I'm nevertheless satisfied. I knew the print run of the vol. II to be 50 but found no mention in the AED and specifically in Munselliana [Munsell was the printer] for the print run of the first volume. A few minutes later this second piece was sold to me for $42.99 against a bid I placed in the final minute for $200.
Collecting has its Moments
A rare Ulster Co. Munsell imprint
Upon receiving both I found the county records begin with notes on the regular meeting of the Ulster Historical Society, held June 7th, 1860, at the Reformed Church in New Paltz including the names of the participants and corresponding members. It seems likely both of these pieces belonged to one of the men mentioned although I haven't determined which one.
This volume reads "Kingston: Printed For The Society" but Munsell lists it as his work. This may explain why so few Munsell imprints show up. The place given is the location of the issuer, not the printer and the name of the printer is omitted.
Both pieces are fragile but in good condition and I am incredibly lucky to have acquired them. That they were inexpensive makes the story a little more interesting.
As an aside it isn't clear if either one of these items would be interesting enough for a conventional auction house to list. Neither piece has any auction history nor have they been included in dealer catalogues I've seen. Auctions want material with track records. Their rarity is, in any event, apparent but their importance less clear. Such material, for focused collectors, is an interesting challenge.
Next I bought three items on ABE that appear in Hermann E. Ludewig's "The Literature of American Local History; A Bibliographical Essay." This interesting, if sometimes imperfect, bibliography is an early attempt  to document local and state history. We'll add it to the AED in August. Among the items Ludewig describes is "A Statistical Account of the Towns and Parishes in the State of Connecticut," by Timothy Dwight, dated 1811. On the title page it says Vol. 1, No. 1 but in fact the second volume wasn't published for 8 years. It's an unsophisticated copy and entirely original. I bought it from David Lesser.
Another Ludewig item is "An Address Delivered at the Request of the Citizens of Hartford on the 9th of November, 1835" by Joel Hawes that relates the history of Hartford from its settlement to the present. This is an 80 page pamphlet in its original printed wrappers. The third is "A Historical Discourse, delivered by request Before the Citizens of New Haven, April 25, 1838, The Two Hundredth Anniversary of The First Settlement of the Town and Colony" by James L. Kingsley, New Haven, 1838. This is a 115-page account in original boards, again a very nice copy.
To close out a busy month another interesting book came up on eBay as a "Poughkeepsie" item. It is "Memoirs of the Rev. John H. Livingston..." by Alexander Gunn, 1829. The AED has four records for the Reverend and one for this title offered by Harper in 1905 who described it as a memoir of the revolutionary war period with material on Poughkeepsie. The copy on eBay had problems but there was a very nice copy in boards on ABE for about the same money and I bought it. It came from the inventory of George S. MacManus of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
Collecting has its Moments
Some very original material.
I didn't however win or buy everything that was appealing. On May 12th at Swann's I bid on a letter from President Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt in which he discussed New Paltz [the Teachers College]. It was estimated $600 to $900. I underbid it at $1,500. [Lot 213, Sale 2043].
I found the eBay items using the daily keyword searches for my selected terms that are part of MatchMaker. "Matchmaker" is a service offered by AE that allows you to do automated daily searches on eBay, ABE , ILAB and all upcoming book, manuscript and ephemera auctions worldwide in AE. These automated searches look for items and subjects of interest, so you never miss the obscure or bargain priced items that show up and quickly disappear from these sites.
This is an exceptional way to build a collection. Even when you don't win an item you get an education.