Twenty-five Major American Items in William Reese's 250th Catalogue
William Reese Catalogue 250 with a Catesby illustration on the cover.
By Michael Stillman
The William Reese Company has now issued its 250th catalogue. In a note, William Reese recalls that he began selling books 31 years ago, and issued his first catalogue 26 years past. Reese points out, "In that time many extraordinary books and manuscripts have passed through my hands." That is a serious understatement. Reese has long been noted for handling the most important and collectible of printed, written and ephemeral Americana. His catalogues match the quality of his offerings, including thorough descriptions of the items offered and explanations of where they fit historically. A Reese catalogue is an education in American history.
Reese notes that his catalogue 250 includes "some of the most important and interesting [items] that I have had the pleasure of owning." While a sizable catalogue, this one contains just 25 items. They are, as Reese says, very important works. These are some of the most significant pieces of Americana available in private hands. Those who collect at the very highest level, or manage significant institutional collections, will find these 25 items worthy of serious consideration. Here are some of the works being offered.
Item 12 is De Moluccis Insulis... by Maximilianus Transylvanus. For those not up on Latin, this is the first printed account of Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe, the first trip ever around the world. Magellan sadly never actually made it around the world himself. He departed Spain in 1519 with five ships and 265 men. By the time the expedition returned in 1522, there was only one ship and 18 men left. Magellan was not one of them. The expedition sailed east, crossing what is now known as the Straits of Magellan below South America, and into a vast, uncharted, and calm ocean he labeled the "Pacific." He made it as far as the Philippines, which he had visited earlier traveling from the other direction, but was killed by natives. After the survivors returned, Maximilianus, a student at the time, was assigned by his teacher, the chronicler Peter Martyr, the task of interviewing the survivors and writing an account of their voyage. This is his account, and it is a first edition, published in Cologne in January 1523. Priced at $675,000.
Item 6 is a most interesting letter. It is one of recommendation from Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, to Hernan Cortes, Spanish Conquistador who captured Mexico and destroyed the Aztec empire. Cortes had a testy relationship with the Spanish court, which appreciated his conquests, but frequently had a dim view of his personality. This letter of recommendation from Charles to Cortes contains some unusually strong language, as if the King needed to make clear to his subject that he was to follow the King's wishes. The letter to Cortes, as Governor of New Spain, dated August 19, 1524, is on behalf of one Gonzalo Ocampo. Ocampo would likely have hand carried this recommendation and handed it to Cortes. In it, the King demands, "...I command and charge you that, in all things pertaining to him, you shall regard him as recommended and will help and favor him and grant him appointments in your service, appropriate to his person, that he may be benefited; for in this I shall be well served." It is signed, "I, the King." Not much room for misunderstanding here. It is not clear who Ocampo is, but there was a Gonzalo de Ocampo serving directly under Francisco de Garay in Mexico in 1523. De Garay was a rival Cortes successfully neutralized, but perhaps this association required a forceful recommendation on his part. There was also a Gonzalo de Ocampo active in South America during the 1520s, though I cannot tell whether this is the same person. $75,000.
Twenty-five Major American Items in William Reese's 250th Catalogue
Charles V letter to Cortes, Monroe Doctrine, and Gettysburg Address.
President James Monroe presided over one of the happiest times in America, the "Era of Good Feeling." Still, what he is best remembered for today is his proclamation, the "Monroe Doctrine," which said the U.S. would regard any further attempt by European powers to colonize the Americas as unfriendly. The U.S. did not have many military resources to enforce this prohibition at the time, but nonetheless it has been for the most part obeyed in the years since. Item 16 is the true first printing of the Monroe Doctrine, effected on December 2, 1823, in the form of a broadside by the National Intelligencer. Reese notes that this is one of but four copies of the first printing known to still exist. $125,000.
The American colonists declared their independence from Britain in 1776 and rose up in revolt, but by the end of that year, things were not looking good for these revolutionaries. The colonists had suffered several military setbacks, and Washington had been routed from New York and was retreating to Pennsylvania. The patriots were in desperate states when the Continental Congress had this broadside, under the signature of John Hancock, printed up in December 1776. The broadside claims the colonists attempted to deal reasonably with the British, but were treated only with contempt and oppression in return by a power that sought to "enslave" them. Hancock calls on Pennsylvania and its neighbors to support the cause, and paints what was at the time an unrealistically positive picture of their military situation. Item 24. $125,000.
On a day in the late fall of 1863, loyal Unionists in America gathered in Gettysburg to witness the dedication of a cemetery to soldiers who had fallen at the battle four months earlier. They came to hear one of the great orators of the time, Edward Everett, a former Secretary of State, Senator, and Massachusetts Governor. Everett did not let them down, speaking for some 1 1/2 to 2 hours. His speech was followed up with some very brief remarks by the President, Abraham Lincoln. Of course, we now know the world little noted nor long remembered what Everett had to say, but Lincoln's words became among the most notable ever spoken. That was a relief to generations of schoolchildren who had to memorize Lincoln's two-minute speech, instead of Everett's two-hour one. Item 11 is the November 22 pamphlet printing from the Washington Chronicle of the events that occurred at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. Along with featuring Everett's speech, it also contains the first printing of the one made by Lincoln. This is one of three known copies of this first printing, and the only one still available. $850,000.
Among the remaining twenty items in this catalogue are an Oviedo very early history of America, a Lewis Aboriginal Portfolio, a collection of six autographed letters by Frederick Douglass, William Wood's 1635 New Englands Prospect (with map), six autographed documents from Johann Sutter of California's Sutter's Mill, Catesby's early history of Carolina and Florida, and a Ptolemy atlas from 1513. You may find the William Reese Company online at www.reeseco.com, telephone 203-789-8081.