Recent Acquisitions at the William Reese Company
New acquisitions in Americana.
The William Reese Company has published a catalogue of Recent Acquisitions in Americana, their 282nd catalogue. This one contains a wide variety of material - 176 items in all - with the common thread being obvious. They all touch on America in some way. Most are deeply connected to America, being about events within the land. However, some are a bit less obvious, such as the painting of a new island that suddenly appeared in the Mediterranean. The connection? It was painted by an American seaman. Here are a few of these recent arrivals to Reese's stock of Americana.
Item 32 is an important book with the perfect provenance: The Navigator: Containing Directions for Navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This is an 1811 "improved and enlarged" seventh edition of a book first published in 1806. Zadoc Cramer's guide was the primary resource at the time for those who navigated the rivers in what was then the American West. The provenance is that of Samuel Clemens, who worked the Mississippi River as a pilot during his youth, taking the penname "Mark Twain," a nautical term. Many of his works were centered on the Mississippi. This copy was not used by Clemens in his piloting days. It was given to him by New York businessman Augustus G. Paine when Clemens was 74 years old, just a year before he died. He has signed the copy "S.L. Clemens 1909." Priced at $12,500.
Speaking of the sudden appearance in the Mediterranean, item 157 is a watercolor, in six panels, showing four views of Graham Island. Graham Island, the British name (the Sicilians call it Ferdinandea) appeared off the coast of Sicily in July of 1831. It wasn't a miraculous appearance, but simply the result of a large volcanic eruption under the sea. It wasn't the island's first appearance. It had arisen from the sea four or five times before dating back into antiquity. Each time it sank back into the sea, its surface subject to rapid erosion. This time there was a major eruption. The island reached a height of 200 feet and a circumference of almost three miles. It quickly resulted in an international dispute. Its strategic location in the Mediterranean made it a desirable possession for several nations. England laid its claim, but so did Sicily, France and Spain. As the nations argued, the island sank. It was no more durable this time than the others. By December of that year, with the nations still disputing its ownership, the last of Graham sank into the sea. It made another very brief appearance 30 years later, and volcanic rumblings a few years ago put people on watch again recently. Currently, it sits about 20 feet below the sea. Another rising will probably not lead to a similar international incident; its close proximity to Sicily likely will make it Italian property. Along with the illustrations this manuscript includes a small map and a description of the rise and fall of the little island. The unknown author was probably an officer onboard the American ship U.S.S. Boston. $2,500.
Item 4 is an odd piece headed Convict Catechism, from the 1880 Georgia gubernatorial election. This race pitted regular Democratic Governor Alfred H. Colquitt against former Senator Thomas Norwood. The Republicans nominated no candidate, leaving the still sizable black vote up for grabs. Neither Colquitt nor Norwood had any particular history of friendship toward blacks, and ultimately the vote was split, as blacks who supported each candidate hoped it might result in better treatment for them in a South that was rapidly turning more hostile. This campaign piece for Norwood was obviously intended to sway black voters by portraying Colquitt in the worst light possible. It claims that under Colquitt's administration, black male and female prisoners were chained together, with 25 illegitimate children "born of mothers lying chained promiscuously in bunks or on the ground among the male convicts." It also claims that Colquitt knowingly permitted black convicts to escape so that they could be tracked down and torn apart by bloodhounds, and that Colquitt supported the Ku Klux Klan. It's not clear whether this pamphlet helped Norwood with black voters (or helped Colquitt with whites), but Colquitt was reelected. $1,000.
Recent Acquisitions at the William Reese Company
Second edition of the Book of Mormon.
Item 104 is a twelve-volume set Reese describes as "a foundation work for any collection devoted to Western Americana or cartography." It is also "a testament to one of the greatest government-sponsored projects in our history." This is the detailed report on the surveys made for the Pacific or transcontinental railroad in 1853-54. With the resolution of land disputes with Britain and the Mexican War in the 1840s, America had obtained vast quantities of land. However, the nation had no practical way to seriously tap these enormous resources. Covered wagons and handcarts over rutted trails were not going to open the West. While the concept of a western railroad had been raised as early as the 1830s, the inevitability that this would come to pass became clear by the 1850s. This set is entitled Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Published between 1855 and 1860, it is filled with information about the West, its natural history, topography, geology and geography. It also contains numerous maps, what Howes described as "the best cartographical work on the West up to its time." Just 15 years after the mission was completed in 1854, the golden spike was hammered into place, completing the western half of America's transcontinental railroad. $10,000.
It didn't take quite as much to impress people back in 1861. Item 12 is a poster from the Barnum Museum, Second Week of the Wonderful Living Hippopotamus from the River Nile in Egypt. Today you will find hippos in just about every zoo, but as P.T. Barnum claimed in August of 1861, this was "…the only animal of the kind ever brought to America…" And, you got double the entertainment since the hippo "…is accompanied by his Arab Keeper Salaama himself a curiosity as an interesting specimen of that historic tribe of the human family…" New Yorkers undoubtedly needed the entertainment as the Civil War had just broken out a few months earlier and life for Americans was about to become filled with tragedy. $3,200.
Item 132 is the rarer second edition of one of America's most collectible books, The Book of Mormon. The first edition, published in 1830, has long been highly desirable among collectors, though hardly a rarity, or even scarce for that matter. The second edition, though "authorized" to be printed in 5,000 copies like the original, evidently was printed in far fewer, as unlike the first, it is rarely seen at auction. This edition was published in 1837 in Kirtland, Ohio, where the Church had moved its headquarters from Palmyra, New York. This edition contains over 2,000 changes, though most are of a typographical nature. However, this is the first edition to describe Smith as having "translated" the book. $75,000.
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