William Reese Co. Offers a Tribute to Wright Howes and his U.S.IANA
A Tribute to Wright Howes.
For their 294th catalogue, the William Reese Company has issued A Tribute to Wright Howes: Part 1 “b” or Better. Actually, this is Part 1 of the fourth go 'round, Reese having issued tributes to Howes three times previously. Such is his importance in the field of book collecting, Americana in particular. Howes was a Chicago based bookseller for much of the first half of the 20th century. He published 73 catalogues, the last in 1949, and was noted for extensive notes and an encyclopedic knowledge of books in the field of Americana.
As his book selling career was winding down, Howes took on a major challenge, compiling a bibliography in his specialty. Rather than an all inclusive one such as the monster undertaking of Joseph Sabin in the previous century, he chose to focus on just books, and those from 1650-1950. Further, it would only be books of some importance and rarity, such as would be of notable interest to serious collectors. Over three years, he put together a list of 12,600 books, and he published it in 1954 under the name U.S.IANA. Howes did one more thing unusual for bibliographies. He gave his books an estimated value, based on his extensive knowledge of sales prices over the years, his familiarity with books' rarity, and with their importance. Recognizing that dollar prices would soon be outdated, and wishing to avoid a similar fate for his bibliography, he expressed their value/rarity/importance in terms of a letter. They ranged from “a,” the least valuable, through “aa,” “b,” “c,” “d,” and “dd,” the most valuable. At the time, an “a” was estimated to be worth $10-$25, up to a “dd,” valued at $1,000 and up. Those prices are long gone, many “a's” now worth well over $1,000, and some “b's” now valued in six figures in Reese's catalogue. While relative values in some cases have held up, in many others, the books have appreciated at far different rates. Reese now has some “b's” priced higher than some “d's.” What is most desirable today is not necessarily the same as in 1954.
This catalogue is something of an anniversary edition. First published in 1954, it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the “definitive” second edition of 1962. As its title notes, the 100 items offered herein were all rated at least a “b” by Howes. Reese notes that they now have over 2,500 Howes titles in stock, these from among the best.
We start with one of the early classics of the American frontier. In the days before the Louisiana Purchase, the frontier was not what we think of as the “West” today, but much closer in. Kentucky would have been the heart of the frontier in the 18th century, and it gave us our first hero of the wild – Daniel Boone. Item 18 is a copy of The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke... by John Filson. It provides the first thorough look at this raw territory, and introduces the legendary Boone to the American public. It covers his experiences with Indians, including his captivities and escapes. The book is a great rarity, and earned a “d” from Howes years ago. Published in 1784. Priced at $30,000.
A hundred years later, the West had moved much farther west, but was still very dangerous, and Indians still made the land a risky place for those who would take it from them. General Custer could attest to that. Item 42 is The Fifth Cavalry in the Sioux War of 1876. Campaigning with Crook, by Charles King, a rare first edition published in 1880. That was the war in which Custer lost his life, as did many others in the Seventh Cavalry under his command. The Fifth Cavalry was operating in the vicinity, and when word reached them of Custer's demise, they set out on a 10-week thousand-mile journey chasing the Indians. They pursued, with nothing but the clothes they wore and a few provisions, all the way to the Heart River in today's North Dakota, before the depletion of rations forced them to stop. Charles King was a first lieutenant in the Fifth Cavalry, and the first edition was printed in a small run intended only for his comrades. This copy bears the ownership signature of J. Hayden Pardee, who served in the 23rd Infantry, also under General Crook. This one is a Howes “b.” $11,500.
William Reese Co. Offers a Tribute to Wright Howes and his U.S.IANA
The first call for a Pacific railroad.
The first major American scientific work came from one of the nation's founding fathers, a printer, almanac creator, diplomat, and just about everything else important in a young land. This, of course, would be Benjamin Franklin. From the scientific side, he is best known for his experiments with electricity, including the kite and key in a thunderstorm, which proved that lightening was electricity. The discovery led to his invention of the lightening rod. Item 21 is Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America, by Mr. Benjamin Franklin, and Communicated in Several Letters to Mr. P. Collinson... Franklin had sent a copy of his findings to Peter Collinson, a friend and fellow scientist in London, who was so excited by the discoveries that he published them in this 1751 edition without seeking Franklin's permission. Supplementary material would be published a few years later with Franklin's approval. This first edition was rated a “b.” $67,500.
Item 97 is a long-titled book, that we will shorten to: The History of Oregon...Embracing an Analysis of the Old Spanish Claims, the British Pretensions, the United States Title...and a Thorough Examination of the Project of a National Rail Road, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Author George Wilkes' work was no great literary achievement, and yet it is a very important book for several reasons. Published in 1845, it is one of only two books describing the emigration to Oregon in 1843. However, there is no indication that Wilkes, who was a New York newspaperman, ever made the journey west that early. What it includes is the account of Peter H. Burnett, who did. Another important aspect of this book is that it was the first call for the building of a Pacific Railroad, one that would enable trains to run all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Wilkes was concerned with more than just transportation in his advocacy. The British still had claims in for Oregon, and the Spanish controlled California. Wilkes believed this should all be part of America, and felt a railway would cement American authority. An ardent supporter of the concept of Manifest Destiny, Wilkes writes, “The Railroad is the GREAT NEGOTIATOR, which alone can settle our title more conclusively than all the diplomatists in the world... Arouse then, America, and obey the mandate which Destiny has imposed upon you for the redemption of the world!” This is a Howes “c.” $12,500.
The William Reese Company may be reached at 203-789-8081 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.reeseco.com.