Literature from the William Reese Company
Literature from William Reese.
By Michael Stillman
The William Reese Company takes a short break from its usual focus on Americana to offer a collection of Literature in its 247th catalogue. Offered are almost 800 titles of primarily 20th century works, though there are a few that go back farther. While Reese's Americana catalogues are generally focused on the upper tier of collecting, this one offers works in the field of literature for a wider range of budgets. There aren't many Reese catalogues in which you can find items as low as $20, but in this one you can. Collectors of literature in all price ranges should find something of interest in this collection, which includes "poetry and prose, manuscripts and original art, fine printing, filmscripts and bibliography." There are numerous first editions and works by both famous and not-so-famous authors, but we will select a few of the more unusual for samples from the catalogue.
Any short list for America's greatest writer will certainly include Mark Twain. Item 158 is a biography of the master, My Father Mark Twain by, naturally, his daughter, Clara Clemens. This 1931 biography uses previously unpublished letters and photographs to provide his fans with a behind the scene look at the great writer. The book itself is not rare, but this copy has an interesting association. It comes with a 1952 inscription from Twain's last direct descendant, granddaughter Nina Clemens Gabrilowitsch. Though Twain had four children, he had but one grandchild, and she had no heirs. Miss Clemens (she preferred to use her grandfather's family name) writes to a physician, "Do you think...you could 'exorcise' me of these traits which I'm afraid I inherited?" She was referring to an alcohol problem, far more serious than anything Twain experienced. Despite the fame her grandfather's name brought her (she never met him, being born a few months after Twain's death), and the income she would eventually receive from his trust, Miss Clemens led a tragic life, which came to an end at the age of 55, pills and alcohol by her side. Priced at $125.
He was a man of large ego, sometime violent temperament, and certainly one of America's greatest folk musicians. He was discovered, not on American Idol, but in prison, for attempting to kill a man. This was not the first time Huddie Ledbetter found himself so restrained. Years earlier, he had been imprisoned for successfully killing a man, but with the help of a musical plea to Texas' governor, was granted a release. He would succeed in pulling this off again in 1934 from Louisiana. However, by this time he had some important friends. John and Alan Lomax had been hired by the Library of Congress to record the music of folk America, and had found prisons to be one of their best resources.
Literature from the William Reese Company
Twain's daughter/biographer Clara Clemens at her father's bust. Courtesy Cleveland S. U. Library.
Their greatest find was Mr. Ledbetter, who by then had picked up the sobriquet "Leadbelly," both a play on his name and a reference to his toughness. The Lomaxes would take him to New York, where he would begin a recording career which, while never making him rich, enabled him to cultivate a large following. Unfortunately, as his career began to grow, Leadbelly came down with Lou Gehrig's disease. He died in 1949. However, his songs, mostly Leadbelly's interpretations of older, sometimes forgotten folk songs, have been recorded by everyone from the Weavers, Johnny Cash and Gene Autry, to the Rolling Stones and Nirvana. They are like a who's who of American music: Goodnight Irene, Midnight Special, House of the Rising Sun, Cotton Fields and Black Betty. Item 8 is the Lomax's 1936 book, Negro Songs as Sung by Lead Belly "King of the Twelve String Guitar Players of the World," Long-time Convict in the Penitentiaries of Texas and Louisiana. $250.
It is poetry filled with passion, anger, even hatred, and eventually, despair. It is the poetry of the Confederate South, anger, followed by steadfastness, followed by hopelessness. Sentiments of never giving in are replaced by reality. Many of the poems extol the virtues of freedom, of free Southerners defending themselves to the death from enslavement by the North. They never saw the irony in it. Editor William Gilmore Simms put together a collection of poetry from the Confederate South, written from 1860-1865, and published it a year after the war ended. In his preface Simms notes that while it was poetry of the Confederacy, it now belongs to the entire nation, as part of its history. These poems offer a rare look at the mindset of those who sought to break the Union, though the juxtaposition of the honor, freedom and morality of which they spoke, with the terrible inhumanity they sought to impress on others, is hard for those not born into it to understand. This intriguing look at the Old South is entitled War Poetry of the South. Item 649. $225.
I don't know this book by Robert Peck, but I like the title: A Day No Pigs Would Die. Must have been a tough day at Hormel. Item 569. $65. Or how about John Cheever's The Day the Pig Fell into the Well. Hopefully he did so on a day no pigs would die as that sounds very dangerous. Item 144. $250.
Finally, some real literature: Star Trek Voyage One "The Cage." Actually, this was just an imaginary voyage (unlike the others). It was a pilot script for an episode that never aired. This script was created in 1964, two years before the first episode was broadcast. The Cage never was filmed, though the plot line was incorporated into a later episode. Item 659 is a mimeographed typescript of this phantom voyage. $200.
The William Reese Company is found online at www.reeseco.com,
phone number 203-789-8081.