New Acquisitions in Americana from the William Reese Co.
New acquisitions in Americana from William Reese.
By Michael Stillman
The William Reese Company has issued a catalogue of New Acquisitions in Americana, and they have come up with 200+ interesting and significant items for collectors in the field. The overwhelming majority of works range from Colonial times through the 19th century, but an occasional more recent item slips in, like the Senate report on the Watergate hearings. Reese's business extends into other areas, as we saw last month with their catalogue of literary works, but Americana, and the most important books within that field, are their specialty. No one who follows Reese will be disappointed with catalogue 254. Here are some examples of what can be found inside.
Item 21 is a book that was both a great success and great failure. Photographer Mathew Brady, along with writer Charles Lester, put together a photo-biography of a dozen of America's leading citizens in the earliest days of photography. The publication date was 1850, and it preserved the likenesses of these important people, some of whom did not survive the year. The book is The Gallery of Illustrious Americans... and among those whose images were preserved were Presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, the three great senate orators from the first half of the 19th century -- Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun, explorer John C. Fremont, Generals Winfield Scott and Lewis Cass, and birdman John James Audubon. Not as well remembered today are Democratic political leader and New York Senator and Governor Silas Wright, writer-historian William Hickling Prescott, and Unitarian theologian William Ellery Channing. Both Taylor and Calhoun died shortly before publication of the book, while Channing and Wright's photos must have been old ones as they died in 1842 and 1847 respectively. The book was successful in that it preserved these leaders images for all time. However, it was not a financial success, and certainly did not achieve its stated aim, "that it may...bind the Union still more firmly together." Priced at $22,500.
Item 5 is a novel exploring issues of race, class, and gender during Reconstruction that you have never read. The reason we are confident you haven't read it is the book was never published. The title is Savannah or the Form of a Servant, written circa 1875, by an unknown author, most likely a woman. It is a 324-page, 80,000-word manuscript work, described by Reese as "a fascinating and well-written unpublished American manuscript novel...addressing some of the leading issues of the Reconstruction era, including the status of Blacks and their role in society." The protagonist is a young lady with the very Dutch name Hannah Ten Eyck, who travels to Florida and comes in contact with recently freed slaves. This changes her attitudes, and she moves to Tennessee to become a teacher of black students, eventually discovering she has black ancestors on her mother's side. She ends up changing her name to "Savannah" and identifying with the black community. Reese describes the author as "a skillful writer," and notes, "the unpublished text presents an excellent opportunity for the scholarly study and publication of an intriguing Reconstruction-era novel." $25,000.
New Acquisitions in Americana from the William Reese Co.
Free child of slave parents in New York.
Here is a one-of-a-kind selection for collectors of Texiana - a group of letters written by Sam Houston to his brother John, along with some other family documents. They run from 1825-1851, though the most interesting are some letters from the 1830s as they are the most personal. In 1834, Houston writes of a love that will never be. "The angel of my hopes...is doubtless doomed to be the wife of some man who is incapable of intimating her charming worth." He even adds a poem, then notes that it would not be correct for him to send it to her. At the time, Sam was between wives number two and three. In 1837, after the Republic of Texas was recognized by the U.S., he writes," I see that we are recognized, but would be more happy, would we be annexed and become a part of ‘Uncle Sam.'" That would come in 1845, and Houston would remain true to those beliefs, being the only major Texas political leader to oppose secession. These six letters from Sam to John Houston and a few other documents are priced at $42,500. Item 103.
Speaking of secession, item 78 is the official documentation pertaining to Florida's secession from the Union on January 10, 1861: Journal of the Proceedings of the Convention of the People of Florida, Begun and Held at the Capitol in the City of Tallassee [sic], on Thursday, January 3, A.D. 1861. In justifying their action, the Convention says, "The rapid spread of Northern fanaticism has endangered our liberties and institutions, and the election of Abraham Lincoln, a wily abolitionist, to the Presidency of the United States, destroys all hope for the future." Actually it didn't. The transformation of Florida from slave state to vacation and retirement state has worked out quite well for its economy. $1,250.
Item 95 is a study of the Indians of the Ohio valley: A Discourse on the Aborigines of the Valley of the Ohio. The writer was William Henry Harrison, future President of the United States. This was Harrison's only nonpolitical work, published in 1838, two years before his election to the highest office in the land. Harrison, a military man who dealt with Indians, both as friend and foe, for most of his life, is best remembered as the unfortunate who died in office after serving just one month as president. There was an Indian mound nearby Harrison's property, and his interest in these structures led him to conclude that prehistoric Indians had a more advanced culture than did those Europeans encountered when they first explored the land. $12,500.
Item 146 consists of three remarkable watercolor drawings by one S. Milton circa 1820. They are unusual in that they depict the children of slaves, though the children were themselves free. New York had abolished slavery for all persons born after 1799. However, older slaves were not fully emancipated until 1827. On July 4, 1827, New York's remaining 10,000 slaves were freed, the largest American emancipation prior to the one issued by Lincoln. These children, and their parents, lived in the home of either David or Lourens Van Alen of Kinderhook, New York. The Van Alens were evidently relatively beneficent slave owners as they commissioned these portraits for the parents, and the former slaves stayed on as household staff for the Van Alens until the 1870s. At that point, the portraits stayed behind with the Van Alen family. The Van Alens were closely related to and neighbors of Kinderhook's most famous resident, President Martin Van Buren. $9,500.
The William Reese Company website is www.reeseco.com, telephone 203-789-8081.