Rare Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Number 128 from David Lesser.
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has released their catalogue No. 128 Rare Americana. Lesser primarily offers shorter form material, from broadsides to pamphlets to occasional manuscript items, along with a few full length books. Items mostly come from the 18th and 19th century, and generally reflect the immediacy of the concerns of the day. Most were probably not expected to be kept for long, so finding them today is always a happy surprise. As expected, the material is related to America. Here are a few samples of what is in store.
Now that we have said most items come from the 18th and 19th century, we will start with one from the 20th. I suspect it is in here because it was an integral part of one of the century's most important events – the Supreme Court decision that desegregated the nation's schools. Item 21 is Transcript of the Record. Supreme Court of the United States...Oliver Brown...vs. Board of Education of Topeka. The record includes various documents filed with the Supreme Court and testimony of various parties involved. Brown and the other appellants were parents of black children who had been denied access to the white schools of Topeka, Kansas. Racial segregation had been maintained under a 19th century Supreme Court case that allowed for segregation based on the doctrine of “separate but equal” schools for all children. In this case, the Supreme Court of 1952 overturned that earlier decision, ruling that separate schools were inherently unequal. The decision started the slow and tumultuous process of integrating the segregated schools that existed over much of the nation. Priced at $1,500.
There was a time, before the internet, before TV, when we had to learn about scandals through print. Item 40 is a copy of a Boston Daily Bee Extra. It provides The Arguments of Counsel for Libelee, Helen Maria Dalton, in the Dalton Divorce Case... It includes various papers pertaining to the notable scandal of 1857. The Daltons were a wealthy Boston couple. Everything was fine, her lawyers said, until, “her flattered vanity, in a moment of folly and indiscretion, led her to take a step which has become the great sorrow of her life.” That was to become involved with one William Sumner. Mrs. Dalton described it as a platonic relationship, and it is possible there was only flirting going on, but Mr. Dalton was not convinced. So he did the logical thing – shot Sumner to death and filed for divorce. Why, under the circumstances, Mrs. Dalton contested the divorce is not clear, perhaps money, though she sadly remarks (through her lawyers) the relationship with Sumner “poisoned the once affectionate heart of her husband, and has turned him away from his still tender and loving wife.” But for the murder, this reminds me terribly of Kristen Stewart. The jury deadlocked, though favoring Mr. Dalton 10-2, and in a separate trial for the killing, he was sentenced to a whole 5 months in jail. Obviously the jury was a bit sympathetic to his situation. $200.
In 1832, the last serious attempts were made in the South to find a way to end slavery voluntarily. The site for such proposals was Virginia. The Nat Turner rebellion had scared many half to death, and there were also many Virginians who at least were uncomfortable with slavery from a moral perspective. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, grandson of his namesake president, proposed a gradual elimination, whereby children born of slaves after 1840 would be freed upon majority. It received serious consideration, but ultimately was rejected. There was never another such moment in the South until emancipation was forced on it during the Civil War. Item 101 is The Speech of William H. Brodnax, (of Dinwiddie) in the House of Delegates of Virginia, on the Policy of the State with Respect to Its Colored Population (1832). It reflects the mixed emotions some felt at the time. Says Bordnax, slavery is a “transcendant evil...a mildew which has blighted in its course every region it has touched, since the creation of the world...the incubus which paralyzes [Virginia's] energies and retards her every effort at advancement.” You would think Brodnax to be a sure vote for Randolph's proposal. Not at all. Brodnax had equally strong words on the other side, saying the proposal “would subvert principles which have been consecrated by the wisdom of ages, and break down every barrier with which our constitution and laws have fenced the security of private property.” Private property trumps freedom. Brodnax joined the successful opposition in voting “no,” leaving it to war to resolve the issue. $1,000. Lesser offers copies of the speeches of several other delegates as well.
Rare Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
There would be far more than just two orphans after this final performance.
Item 19 is a broadside for the Brooklyn Theater, This Week, positively the Last Times in Brooklyn of the Two Orphans with all its Original Scenes and Cast. We cannot vouch for whether this was truly the last performances of Two Orphans in Brooklyn, but we can say it was certainly the last show performed at the Brooklyn Theater. The broadside announces this is the last week of its performance, and the final performance at the theater was on December 5, 1876, so that dates this piece within a few days. December 5 was the night of the terrible fire. It started as a small fire offstage between the fourth and fifth acts. Water was not readily available, so a few stagehands tried to beat it out. As sparks reached the stage, the actors played on, fearful of starting a panic. Even as the situation became obvious, they cautioned people to relax and return to their seats, the fire would be out shortly. Soon enough, the patrons panicked anyway and made a mad dash for the exits. Those in the lower auditorium mostly made it out all right. It was those at the highest level, several hundred people served by only one stairway that soon became jammed and filled with smoke, who suffered the highest casualties. Acrid smoke, which rose to the highest level of the theater, quickly overcame the people trapped behind the jammed stairs. There were 278 confirmed fatalities, with the actual number possibly exceeding 300. Many simply were buried in a mass grave. It was the third worst fire in terms of fatalities in a theater or other public place in U.S. history, exceeded only by Chicago's Iroquois Theater Fire and Boston's Cocoanut Grove fire. It's unlikely many remembered much about the play, but for the record, it was an American adaptation of a French play about two orphan sisters who are abducted and separated, one who ends up with a rich family, the other in poverty. This is an extremely rare broadside, Lesser unable to locate other copies anywhere. $500.
Item 51 is A Word to Those that are Afflicted Very Much. Specifically, they were afflicted with “throat distemper,” likely diphtheria, when Rev. Joseph Emerson (an ancestor of Ralph Waldo) attempted to reassure them. The disease had killed many children, particularly in some of the rural towns around Boston, such as Malden where Emerson preached. Emerson has been described as a scholar who “prayed every night that none of his descendants might ever be rich.” I will have to check my family tree, but I suspect this SOB must have been one of my ancestors. $450.
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books may be reached at 203-389-8111 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.lesserbooks.com.