Western Americana From William Reese Co.
Western Americana from the William Reese Company.
By Michael Stillman
The William Reese Company's latest catalogue, number 244, is Western Americana. Reese's material is always top shelf, and this is no exception. Most material is from the 19th century, although a few items squeeze their way into an adjoining one. For Old West collectors, looking for items ranging from very interesting to historically extraordinary, Reese has 166 items waiting your perusal. They are described as all being recent acquisitions, so even those who follow Reese's offerings will want to check these out. Here are a few.
It is perhaps the most collectible of American Indian works (along with McKenney and Hall). Item 25 is George Catlin's, Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio... Published in 1844 or 1845, it is highlighted by 25 hand-colored plates of Indians he drew during the first half of the 19th century. This is a first edition, third issue (first Bohn). Catlin observed the western Indians, whom he found both noble and savage. He described the Indian as "an honest, hospitable, faithful, brave, warlike, cruel, revengeful, relentless, - yet honourable, contemplative and religious being." One can assume Catlin had mixed feelings about these natives. However, what he most saw was a dying race and a dying culture. He found himself in a race to preserve, through his text and drawings, a culture which, he rightly determined, was quickly coming to an end, at least in anything resembling its native state before the invasion of their homeland. His book is of major importance in preserving that culture as it once was. Priced at $150,000.
Item 26 is a very rare Catlin item, and one that he disclaimed and disavowed. It is called An Account of an Annual Religious Ceremony Practised by the Mandan Tribe of North American Indians, privately published by the Philobiblion Society in 1865. Catlin had given a talk about the O-Kee-Pa ceremony of the Mandans to the Philobiblion Society. Catlin had been invited to witness this sacred ceremony, which included young braves voluntarily submitting themselves to some rather gruesome tortures to display their bravery. Other aspects of the ceremony contained sexual overtones probably somewhat shocking to the typical 19th century non-native American. Evidently, Catlin was not willing to fully describe what he had witnessed, but presented a copy of his manuscript on request to some members for their own edification. Instead, they printed up 50 copies for private circulation. When he found out, Catlin retracted any connection with the pamphlet, and demanded all copies be destroyed. They weren't, and this item is one of those that survives. $17,500.
Item 109 was a most interesting attempt at overland travel a few years before the completion of the transcontinental railroad. It is a prospectus headed, Overland Traction Engine Company. Transportation by Steam from Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. Published in Boston in 1865, and written by Asa P. Robinson and Edward Warner, the scheme was for a train without tracks. The locomotive would haul its load over bare ground, and through rivers so long as they were not too deep, traversing the relatively flat land east of the Rockies. It was a major improvement on the cattle train then used to haul goods, and much simpler and less expensive than building a railroad. However, there were some shortcomings. All in, the engine weighed 54 tons. On its maiden voyage, it got stuck in the mud. Was this really a surprise? While we are not certain of this, it would seem that the writer is the same Asa P. Robinson who was a railroad designing engineer (not the type of engineer who actually drives trains) who came from Boston to build railroads in Arkansas a few years later and founded the community of Conway, Arkansas. $3,500.
Western Americana From William Reese Co.
Drawings from George Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio.
Item 9 is one of the more remarkable Indian captivities, made even more remarkable by the fact that it is apparently essentially true. It was written by (or perhaps ghost written for) Matthew Brayton and published in 1860. The title is, The Indian Captive. A Narrative of Adventures and Sufferings of Matthew Brayton, in His Thirty-four Years of Captivity among the Indians of North-Western America. Brayton was captured at the age of seven from his Michigan home, and from then until 1860, was held by the Potawatomi, Winnebago, Chippewa, Sioux, and finally, the Snake Indians, who made him a member of their tribe. He eventually returned to "civilization" in 1860, joined the Army in 1861, and ironically enough, after surviving all of those years as a captive of Indians, died in 1862 during the Civil War. He never should have returned. $6,000.
Item 14 is En El Puerto de Monterrey de la Alta California... It is the California Declaration of Independence, and contains the printed signature of "Juan Albarado" (Alvarado). The document is dated November 3, 1836. These rebels were unhappy with attempts by Mexican authorities to centralize control over the nation. Alvarado appointed himself governor of Northern California, and Roman Catholicism was named as the only religion that could be publicly practiced (however, the Declaration notes that no one would be prosecuted for practicing other faiths in private). Two years later, Alvarado would be appointed as a legitimate provincial governor by Mexican authorities. He was removed in 1842, but fought his way back to power in 1844. However, he was not able to withstand the influx of Americans and the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. He retired from politics, went into business and farming, and lived in northern California until his death in 1882. This is one of three known copies of this broadside declaration. $125,000.
Item 59 is a photo album containing 24 photographs of President Warren Harding's journey to Alaska in July 1923. It is accompanied by the Speeches and Addresses of Warren G. Harding...June 20 to August 2, 1923. This is certainly a melancholy collection. Harding was in the early stages of the Teapot Dome scandal, which would forever tar his presidency as one of the least competent and most corrupt. However, Harding had at one time been enormously popular, and the corruption took place without his knowledge. The trip to Alaska, the first by a U.S. president, was labeled a "Voyage of Understanding," as Harding went out to speak to the people. Reese notes that Harding looked well and in good spirits in the photographs. Unfortunately, he took ill on his return trip from Alaska to San Francisco, and suffered a fatal heart attack a few days later, dying on August 2. The photographer of this collection is unknown, though it was probably someone who accompanied Harding on his voyage, or an Alaskan who followed him around. $2,250.
The William Reese Company may be found online at www.reeseco.com or reached by phone at 203-789-8081.