Inexpensive Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Inexpensive Americana from David Lesser.
By Michael Stillman
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued Inexpensive Americana Part V. This is the fifth in a series of catalogues where no books or pamphlets are priced higher than $250. The material herein is what you would expect from Lesser - fascinating looks at the politics, government, industry, theology and more of early America. These catalogues always provide a window on the issues confronting America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the items come from obscure people or concern now forgotten issues; others engage us in the fundamental questions of America's formation historians still debate today. The one notable difference between this and other Lesser catalogues is the price. Here the Connecticut bookseller proves that interesting and important works don't always come with large price tags.
Item 236 is a firsthand account of one of the great adventures of the Civil War, the incident memorialized in the film The Great Locomotive Chase. A group of mostly Union soldiers made their way to Marietta, Georgia, disguised as civilians, in 1862. There, they captured a Confederate locomotive and sped off toward Tennessee. Their aim was to destroy as many bridges and tracks as they could along the way, disrupting rail communications in the South. Their success was limited as Confederates quickly gave chase, the result being this extraordinary tale of hot pursuit. Eventually, all of the Union participants were captured, some executed, the others imprisoned. Offered is the Adventures of Alf. Wilson. A Thrilling Episode...by...a Member of the Mitchell Railroad Raiders. John Alfred Wilson was a private in the 21st Ohio Infantry, which provided the soldiers for this mission. His book was published in 1880. Priced at $225.
Item 26 ties together two U.S. Presidents: Great Speech of the Honourable James Buchanan...on Thursday, Oct. 7, 1952. Buchanan would be elected President himself four years later, but on this October day in western Pennsylvania, he was endorsing the candidacy of Franklin Pierce. Actually, he spent minimal time discussing Pierce. Most of the speech was devoted to attacking Whig candidate Winfield Scott. Along with his alleged personal shortcomings, General Scott's major fault, in Buchanan's eyes, is that he will be beholden to northern Whigs who oppose the Fugitive Slave Law. Neither Pierce, not Buchanan when he became President, had any problem with that terrible law. The only question remaining is which of those two presidents was worse than the other. $100.
Buchanan's sympathy toward slaveholders would result in this interesting twist in the 1856 election. A few southern voices, in defending the rightness of slavery, had indicated that there were circumstances in which white slavery was appropriate. Northern laborers, a South Carolina newspaper pronounced, were a servile class unfit for self-government. This pro-Fremont (the Republican candidate) pamphleteer uses these claims to stir distrust of Buchanan and the Democrats with this title: The New Democratic Doctrine. Slavery not to be confined to the Negro Race, but to be made the Universal Condition of the Laboring Classes of Society. Item 80. $100.
Inexpensive Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Item 21 is An Account of the Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys, a report published in 1831. It describes how this charitable organization cares for orphaned boys, and lists its officers and supporters. Among the officers was famed writer and adventurer Francis Parkman; among the supporters was George Brinley, probably the greatest collector of printed Americana in the 19th century. $50.
Speaking of Mr. Parkman, his uncle George was a principal in a gruesome murder case in 1850. Dr. George Parkman grew up in a wealthy Boston family. He went to medical school and received his medical degree, but spent his time crusading for more humane mental institutions, and made his living collecting rents off his property. Parkman was quite frugal for someone of his means, but was generally considered a nice man. Likewise, Dr. John Webster came from a highly respected and wealthy Boston family, obtained his medical degree, but then chose to become a chemistry professor and lecturer at Harvard. Webster did not receive much family wealth, and tended to live beyond his means, but he too was considered a decent man by most who knew him. Money would bring these two gentlemen of many similarities together. Webster needed it; Parkman had it. Webster borrowed $400 from Parkman, which he secured with a cabinet of minerals he owned. Still short of money, Webster next borrowed money from another gentleman, securing it with the same cabinet of minerals. Parkman was not happy. Webster arranged a meeting with the latter, who was never seen again, at least not in one piece. Parts of a body were later discovered under floorboards in Webster's office, while other parts were apparently burned. Webster maintained they were from medical cadavers, but a dentist and others identified them as belonging to Dr. Parkman. The sensational trial ended with a "guilty" verdict, and Webster's life ended at the end of a rope. Item 122 is a sermon published in 1850 by Edward N. Kirk on this sordid tale: The Murderer. A Discourse Occasioned by the Trial and Execution of John W. Webster. We should note that not all thought Webster guilty, some believing a Harvard janitor who collected a substantial reward may have planted the evidence. $125.
Thomas L. McKenney is well known among book collectors as author of one of the most important works on America's Indians. McKenney, the former head of the Office of Indian Affairs, James Hall, and artist Charles Bird King set out to capture images and information about America's western Indians before white civilization permanently changed their culture. You can expect to pay well into five figures for this book. However, Indians weren't the only subject on McKenney's mind. McKenney maintained that President Madison's Secretary of War, John Armstrong, must bear responsibility for the nation's inability to defend the city of Washington during the War of 1812. Armstrong was forced to resign as a result of the city's fall. Item 6 is a defense of Armstrong by his son, Kosciuszko Armstrong, published in 1847, entitled Examination of Thomas L. McKenney's Reply to the Review of His Narrative. $100.
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books can be reached at 203-389-8111 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.lesserbooks.com.