The Latest Acquisitions by James Cummins Bookseller
Catalogue 98 from James Cummins Bookseller.
By Michael Stillman
James Cummins Bookseller has just issued his Catalogue 98, a collection of new acquisitions. "New acquisitions" are difficult to describe beyond saying they were recently acquired. They do not conform to any theme or field of collecting. They just are what they are. In this case, they are a varied but highly collectible group of books, manuscripts, and photographs, material of the first order. Whatever you collect, you will enjoy this catalogue. Here are a few examples.
There is probably no field with more dedicated followers than railroading. Long ago replaced by the automobile as our primary means of transportation, railroads still retain a hold on our dreams and fantasies. Even today they symbolize freedom and adventure. Item 88 is what is known as the first American book on railroads: Documents tending to prove the superior advantages of Rail-ways and Steam-carriages over Canal Navigation. This was a prescient book by a remarkable mind, John Stevens. Among his other ideas not carried out until after his life was over were an armored navy, a bridge over and a vehicular tunnel under the Hudson River, and an elevated train for New York. This book was published in 1812, and in it Stevens calls for a railway to be built from Lake Erie to Albany, which would open the heartland of America to trade. America was not yet ready. Instead, the Erie Canal was constructed along this route, a great success, but not a particularly long lived one. Stevens' railroads and their ability to access just about any place would soon replace canals as the favored means of transportation. Stevens spells out many details for his trains, including cast-iron wheels, raised rails, and a steam-powered engine. Priced at $7,500.
If Stevens dreamed big, Edison not only imagined, but carried out his dreams. Item 26 is The Phonograph and Phonograph Graphophone, a very early pamphlet on the predecessor of the CD player (I can't believe I'm actually describing a phonograph this way). This was published in 1888 by the North American Phonograph Company, a corporation formed by Jesse Lippincott, which bought Edison's rights to the invention. Edison originally patented his phonograph in 1878, but quickly became distracted by other projects, like inventing the electric light. This pamphlet extols the virtues of the phonograph, noting, "How interesting it will be to future generations to learn from the phonograph exactly how Rubinstein played a composition on the piano." This piece is accompanied by an 1889 announcement offering shares in the company. $2,500.
Speaking of shares in a company, how about 100 shares in the original Standard Oil? What might that be worth today? In 1882, John D. Rockefeller merged all of his oil properties in the Standard Oil Trust. It would not only become the biggest energy conglomerate ever amassed, but its absolute domination and control of the market would be the inspiration for various trust-busting measures later adopted. First the properties would be divided among several subsidiaries, and finally, the Standard Oil Trust was dissolved after a 1911 Supreme Court ruling against it. Item 80 is a certificate for 100 shares of Standard Oil, dated 1883, and issued to Wallace C. Andrews, one of its founders. It is signed by Rockefeller and other Standard Oil founders Henry Flagler and J.A. Bostwick. The certificate is priced at $3,000, but would be worth countless millions if you could cash it in for its current value.
The Latest Acquisitions by James Cummins Bookseller
Jacob Wainwright onboard ship with the coffin of David Livingstone.
Here's a book that sounds like a lot of laughs: Discipline. A Novel. By the Author of 'Self-Control.' Mrs. Mary Brunton was the fun-loving author of this 1815 novel. This is the rare first American edition of a book that examined issues such as "jealousy, pride, suicide, sexual harassment, oppression of the poor, true friendship and true love." That title still scares me. Item 12. $1,000.
Item 18 is a Confederate imprint, which tells us something about the Civil War, though that is not its subject. The book is Joseph II and His Court...by Louise Muhlbach (pseudonym for Klara Mundt). Published in Mobile in 1864, what is notable is that the wrappers were printed on wallpaper. There was such a shortage of paper in the South at the time that some extreme measures were necessary to print a book. $1,500.
Item 46 is an important letter pertaining to an unsuccessful expedition to reach the North Pole. Charles Francis Hall wished to lead such an assault on the Pole, and in 1870, he wrote this letter to Henry Grinnell, noted financial backer of Arctic exploration. In it, Hall explains his plans and strategy, and states, "...I doubt not...I would fully accomplish the determination of my burning soul, which determination my dear Mr. Grinnell, you know to be to put my foot on the North extremity of the axis of the globe..." The following year, Congress financed Hall's expedition, and in September Hall, his party, and the ship Polaris sailed into Greenland to winter over. Unfortunately, Hall suddenly took ill on Greenland, and died on November 8, 1871. At the time it was attributed to apoplexy, most likely a stroke. However, Hall had already lost control of his mutinous crew and believed some of them had poisoned him, a strong possibility, though the truth may never be known. The expedition continued the following year without him, but as the Polaris became icebound, the explorers broke into two groups who were lucky to each eventually be rescued by whalers. It would be another four decades before Robert Peary would finally reach the North Pole (maybe). $10,000.
David Livingstone was a missionary, humanitarian, and one of the greatest African explorers. Despite declining health after many years in the heart of Africa, he refused to leave, even after he was finally located by Henry Stanley ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume"). Livingstone died in 1873, whence began perhaps his most amazing journey. Several of his devoted African followers, including Jacob Wainwright, carried his body from the interior of Africa to the coast, and then brought him by boat back to England, almost a year after he died. Item 62 is a photograph of Wainwright seated next to Livingstone's coffin onboard ship. Price not listed.
James Cummins Bookseller may be found online at www.jamescumminsbookseller.com, telephone 212-688-6441.