Western Americana from William Reese
Western Americana from William Reese Co.
By Michael Stillman
The William Reese Company has issued a new catalogue of Western Americana, number 256 in their long-running series. Offered are over 200 items pertaining to the very Old West. This is more the West of its earliest days, of explorers and surveyors, rather than gunfighters and lawmen (however, we do note that Buffalo Bill makes an appearance). There is no Jesse James, but there is Lewis and Clark, Francis Parkman, and Zebulon Pike. Of course there are Indians, but they are here as people about whom we wanted to learn more, not just as foils for cowboys. This is the West as it truly was, and Reese offers some of the most important and notable books from the era, along with some very rare and obscure works and personal manuscripts. Here are a few of them.
We will start with one of the earliest of western books, particularly about California. It is A Natural History of California by Miguel Venegas. This is the first English edition of a work that precedes statehood and the Gold Rush by almost a century. The first edition in Spanish preceded this 1759 translation by two years. This book is a good starting point for a California collection. Item 195. Priced at $4,500.
California and the American Southwest were still part of New Spain when Alexander von Humboldt visited the territory in the early 19th century. He had received permission from Spanish King Charles IV to explore the area, permission Spain rarely gave outsiders. His book, Essai Politique sur la Royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne, along with the accompanying atlas describe and depict parts of the Southwest and Mexico in a time before Anglo settlement. Reese's 1811 octavo edition is a very rare, perhaps only existing copy with the suppressed dedication to Charles IV. The problem is that by the time Humboldt wrote his book, Charles IV had been overthrown by Napoleon. Dedicating a book to him, despite his cooperation with Humboldt, was definitely not politic. Some of the 1808 quarto edition copies were released with the dedication, but this is the first copy of the 1811 octavo Reese has seen which had one. Somehow it slipped through. Item 94. $45,000.
In the 1820s, the seeds that would transfer the Southwest from newly independent Mexico to the United States were being sown in Texas, but Mexican authorities were not yet wise to it. Item 8 is El Ciudadano Estevan F. Austin, Empresario, Para Intriducir Emigrados Estrangeros... When is the last time Stephen Austin was referred to as "Estevan?" This is an 1829 admission certificate to Austin's colony, and probably the earliest Texas imprint obtainable. A certificate was one of the steps required by Mexican authorities to emigrate to Austin's colony. This certificate was granted to a widow, Frances Manifee, and is signed by Austin's close associate, Samuel M. Williams. $25,000.
Western Americana from William Reese
Houston is depicted as nestled in mountains that do not exist.
What do General Custer and Budweiser beer manufacturer Anheuser Busch have in common? Both were/are great at self-promotion, and both appear on this circa 1896 poster. This poster states, Custer's Last Fight. The Original Painting has been Presented to the Seventh regiment U.S. Cavalry by Anheuser Busch Brewing Association. St. Louis. MO. The painting was created by Cassily Adams, a descendant of President John Adams. The brewer evidently gave the original to Custer's old regiment and made prints to hand out to saloons to promote their beer. Custer did not die in vain. Item 2. $12,500.
Item 69 is a rare copy of The Eskimo Bulletin. The Only Yearly in the World. Volume III. Actually, the name was a bit of an exaggeration, as it skipped roughly every other year in its short life from 1893-1902. It was published in Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, the westernmost point of the North American mainland. One of the reasons for such an infrequent publication is that it could not reach outside subscribers more often. You see, there was only one mail delivery a year to this frozen outpost. The result was that they sometimes got the news wrong. In a precursor to the Chicago Tribune's famous "Dewey Beats Truman" Headline, The Eskimo Bulletin announces "Bryan Elected." In reality, William Jennings Bryan was walloped by William McKinley, something Bryan would make a habit of doing in future presidential elections. Oddly, on an inside page, the paper notes that the front-page headline is wrong. And, in a bit of amazing prescience, the paper also announces "U.S. is at war with Spain." That was not the case when this paper was published in July, 1897, but would be accurate a year later with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Other news is of a more local nature, with the lead article being about a chief who was murdered by two drunken brothers. It also reports "The local squirrel crop was a failure." I have no idea what this is about, and probably don't want to know. $1,850.
Item 111 is J.C. Lester and D.L. Wilson's Ku Klux Klan, Its Origin, Growth and Disbandment, published in 1884. If only it had disbanded in 1884. This is a sympathetic look at the original Klan, an organization primarily of Confederate military men. While hardly friends of the freed slaves, the original Klan was more focused on opposition to Reconstruction than with the virulent racism it came to represent later. $1,000.
Item 92 is certainly an unusual title for early Texas: Texas and the Gulf of Mexico; or Yachting in the New World. Not too many early Texans were into yachting, but the writer was a genteel British lady who visited the area on her husband's yacht in 1842. Mrs. Matilda Houstoun discusses issues of the day, including slavery and the potential for civil war, while providing insights on life in early Texas. The book includes several exceptional lithographs, including the one pictured on this page of "alpine" Houston. It is hard to figure how anyone came up with this portrait of Houston as a city nestled in tall mountains, as anyone who has been there knows that Houston is as flat as any Iowa cornfield. $4,750.
The William Reese Company may be found online at www.reeseco.com, telephone 203-789-8081.