19th Century Americana from Seneca Books
Americana from Seneca Books.
By Michael Stillman
Seneca Books, of Boxborough, Massachusetts, recently printed Catalog Three Americana. It is divided into sections on business, trade, law and medicine; politics, reform movements and women's rights; religious and education movements; and other Americana. In other words, just about anything relating to America may be found. Most items tend to be ephemeral, pamphlets, broadsides, manuscript letters and the like, only a few being true books. Most were created during the 19th century. These are some samples of what will be found.
We will start with the Defence of Francis W. Edmonds, Late Cashier of the Mechanics Bank, Against the Charges Preferred Against Him by the President and Assistant Cashier. Edmonds was a significant banker at the time (1855) who helped found the New York Clearing House. Apparently he had used bank funds to contribute to political candidates, though his stated reason was to help elect candidates who would place city funds in his bank. Today, he would receive a multimillion dollar salary for his efforts, but evidently standards were different then. Edmonds voluntarily resigned, as he already was prepared for a second career. Along with being a banker, he was a talented artist, and he used his skills to set up a business engraving banknotes. Item 2. Priced at $250.
Item 20 is a copy of the Rules & Regulations for R.H. White & Co., a Boston department store at the time (1853). The demands were tough. It contains 45 rules along with a number of "misdemeanors" for which an employee could be terminated. Among them were cleaning or scraping your fingernails at the counter, striking a cash boy, chewing tobacco and spitting on the floor. It may seem strange today that salespeople would even have be told such things, but in this writer's lifetime chewing tobacco and spitting on the street, if not inside a store, were not uncommon practices. $100.
Abraham Lincoln had to deal with attacks from both sides of the political spectrum as he prepared to seek reelection in 1864. The war was not going well. Democrats nominated General George McClellan, a candidate quite willing to compromise with the South to end the war. Meanwhile, the Republicans split into two factions, the moderate group renominating Lincoln, the radical group going with John C. Fremont. General Fremont, who had been the first Republican presidential nominee in 1856, felt Lincoln was being too accommodating to the South and not tough enough in his opposition to slavery. Item 57 is a song sheet, by "Old Ned," entitled When Abe Comes Marching Home Again, set to the tune of When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. It mentions how "we'll all be free" when Abe comes marching home from the White House. The songster also sticks it to McClellan, pointing out the General "couldn't whip the Rebel Crew." Ultimately, with the election looking like it would go McClellan's way, Fremont feared his candidacy would help the Democrat win, so he withdrew from the race and threw his support to Lincoln. $350.
19th Century Americana from Seneca Books
1864 Fremont broadside welcoming Abe home.
One thinks of the opera house as a home for refined, genteel entertainment. Such was not the case on the evening of May 10, 1849, in New York. Item 116 is the Account of the Terrific and Fatal Riot at the New-York Astor Place Opera House, on the Night of May 10th, 1849; with the Quarrels of Forrest and Macready, including All the Causes which led to that Awful Tragedy! This one too sounds incomprehensible to today's ears. Forrest and Macready were, respectively, famed American and British Shakespearean actors of the day. Each had a great following. Forrest appealed more to immigrant and working classes, Macready to upper class society. The theater in those days was more like English soccer. Forrest's adherents had already caused an outburst during Macready's performance a few days earlier, and this night, thousands gathered in front of the opera house and threw stones through the windows. Macready was able to sneak out in disguise, but as the riot continued, police were called in. This pamphlet lists 23 dead, but the death toll may have run as high as 31. Imagine, rioting to the death over Shakespeare! $120.
Item 10 is The Celebrated and Extraordinary Trial of Col. Monroe Edwards, for Forgery and Swindling, published in 1842. Edwards had come to Texas as a young man to work for a merchant, but soon found ways to make even more money. He became heavily involved in smuggling slaves, that trade long since outlawed. He also was involved in other illegal pursuits, eventually fleeing Texas for England, and fleeing England for New York. It was there he was caught, tried, and convicted of forgery in what was one of the most sensational trials of the era. Edwards died in 1847, beaten to death by prison guards in New York's Sing Sing Prison after an escape attempt. $2,500.
Seneca Books may be reached at 978-263-1108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is found at www.senecararebooks.com.