Rare and Unusual Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Catalogue 95 of Rare Americana.
By Michael Stillman
David Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their latest edition of Rare Americana -- A Catalogue of Significant and Unusual Imprints Relating to America. Lesser regularly issues collections of mostly obscure and unexpected American material from the 18th and 19th centuries. Most often, the items are of pamphlet length or even simple broadsides, although longer tracts can also be found. A David Lesser catalogue is an excellent place to look for what regular people, perhaps a local politician, clergyman, or newspaper editor, was thinking, as well as the thoughts of presidents and statesmen. It provides a window on early America, and is a great resource for those who seek the unusual within the field. Here are some samples.
We have been able to literally watch America's last few wars on our television sets. Before that, we watched them as newsreels in the movie theater, but how were Americans able to visualize the Civil War? Here is the answer. Item 22 is a broadside announcing Grand Historic Mirror of the American War! ...The Only Work of the Kind in Existence, Sketched by Eyewitnesses, and Painted by the Most Eminent Artists... This was a large, traveling mural, with scenes of various events from the war painted upon it. As new battles unfolded, the artists would add additional sections. The showing advertised in this broadside ran from December 29, 1862 until January 1, 1863 at Philadelphia's Concert Hall. Buy a ticket and you could view the mural plus hear "a patriotic and descriptive lecture." This is TV news circa 1863. Priced at $850.
Edmond Charles Genet, or "Citizen Genet," was appointed French Ambassador to the U.S. in 1793. This was the time of the French Revolution, and France also found itself at war with England and Spain. When Genet came to America, he was welcomed as a hero. France had been America's benefactor in its revolution, and Americans were becoming swept up in the excitement of the revolution in France. However, Genet overplayed his cards. He outfitted a couple of privateering ships to be used against the British and Spanish while on American soil, and when his further demands for assistance were not met by Washington, he threatened to go directly to the American public. Unfortunately for Genet, Washington remained first in the hearts of his countrymen, and Genet soon found his credentials revoked. Meanwhile in France, the revolution turned bloodier, and the new French ambassador delivered Genet with notice to return home. Genet feared the guillotine awaited him in France, so he sought asylum from the American leaders he had battled. It was granted and Genet lived out his many remaining days (he died in 1834) on a New York farm (he married New York Governor George Clinton's daughter, and after her death, the daughter of Postmaster General Samuel Osgood). So what did Citizen Genet do in all of those years? Well one thing he did was to write a book. The title is Memorial on the Upward Forces of Fluids... and it was the first book on practical aeronautics published in America. Genet offers plans for a device that made most people laugh in amusement -- a heavier than air flying machine. The book was published in Albany, across the river from Genet's farm, in 1825. By this time, Citizen Genet was an American citizen. Item 48. $2,500.
Rare and Unusual Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Lesser usually has a murder story with which to scandalize us, and this issue is no exception. Item 102 is The Life of Milton W. Streeter, the Jealous and Infatuated Murderer, who Murdered his Young and Beautiful Wife... The young and beautiful Mrs. Streeter had sued to leave her insane, suspicious husband, but he slit her throat, as well as his own. Milton survived and was sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life in prison. This book will tell you all about Streeter, his life, and his trial. $250.
Another regular among Lesser catalogues is the Indian Captivity. Item 54 is the Narrative of the Capture and Providential Escape of Misses Frances and Almira Hall, Two Respectable Young Women [Sisters] of the Ages of 16 and 18, who were taken Prisoners by the Savages... This book may have been intended to stir anti-Indian feelings, and Howes says the likely author was William P. Edwards, "the perpetrator of similar questionable captivities." Howes also notes that "the correct names of the Hall sisters were Rachel and Sylvia." One wonders whether he could have known their story very well if he didn't even know their names. However, this book is still considered an early resource on the Black Hawk War. The book also includes the "Sufferings of Philip Brigdon," also captured by the Sac and Fox Indians. Item 54 is a second printing from 1833, the year after the capture was said to have occurred. Brigdon and the sisters all managed to escape. $500.
Items 94 and 95 are collections of 25 and 27 pamphlets (mostly overlapping) from 1860-1875, published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (offshoot of the Mormons). The Reorganized Church was formed in 1860, but its followers were those who broke off from the better-known Salt Lake branch before their trek to Utah. The Reorganized Church opposed polygamy, and looked on Brigham Young as a materialist and sensualist. Their beliefs and differences with the Utah Mormons are explained in these pamphlets. $3,500 each for the collections.
Item 35 is a broadside, By His Excellency Samuel Ward King, Governor...of the State of Rhode Island...A Proclamation. The subject was the Dorr Rebellion. As of 1841, Rhode Island was the only state with a property requirement to vote. With recent immigration, that limited voting to 40% of the state's white males. Thomas Dorr led the formation of an alternate assembly to adopt its own state constitution when the legal one failed to expand voting. This led to a confrontation, and the Governor called on the Federal government for help. This broadside repeats President Tyler's recognition of the official government and his promise to support it, though the President concluded there was no need to send troops. By 1842, the rebellion had fallen apart and Dorr fled the state, but the disenchantment of the populace forced the regular government to expand voting rights to anyone who could pay a $1 poll tax. $600.
The website for David Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books can be found at www.lesserbooks.com, telephone 203-389-8111.