AE Monthly

Articles - August - 2006 Issue

An Upstate New York Perspective

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AAS is arguably the repository of American printing. Other institutions have some of this material. It's the Society's goal to have one of every printing. Over the years they have received as gifts and by purchase extensive examples of Joel Munsell's work and I'm hopeful of finding a substantial portion here. Joel Munsell was an Albany, New York, printer whose work spanned five decades in the mid-19th century. I'm tracking appearances of his material on the net as well as copies in libraries and comparing the quantities found to the print runs he recorded in his bibliography "Munselliana." In theory I should be able to develop a formula for predicting the frequency of future appearance of his many works once sufficient information is gathered. Even more significantly, I hope to use the ratio of copies printed to copies still held in libraries and on the net to estimate original print runs of all books for which this information was not recorded. Munsell's meticulous record keeping may make such an undertaking possible.

The AAS online inventory shows only about 375 Munsell items for the period 1828-1870 for apparently the same reason I'm having trouble finding much of his work elsewhere. It lacks printer identification. So for this trip I shift my attention to another AAS holding, Munsell's notes from his personal copy of Munselliana, his accounting of books and pamphlets printed during his first 40 years as a printer. Here he corrects entries and adds others while noting biographical information about authors and related parties. In two days I transcribe his entries for the period 1828 through 1857 and plan to return in the fall to complete the rest. Tom Knoles, Head Librarian, thoughtfully agrees to my adding these notes to AE's online catalogue of Munselliana.

Friday night sees us on the way to Albany and to the Crown Plaza Hotel at State and Lodge. It's an excellent location for exploring the downtown and only a few steps from several State Street addresses that Munsell occupied during his career. Jack's at 46 State is the concierge's dinner recommendation and it's a very good suggestion. Think meat when you eat here and you won't be disappointed. Around the corner after dinner we walk by the Capitol Bookstore, a rundown location with plywood over the door and a Munsell sammelband in the window. I may have been at Oz at noon but by dinner time it's strictly Ozzie and Harriet.

It's Saturday morning and I'm back to see Ozzie. It's 10:00 am and the lights are out but I knock anyway. In a few moments the door opens a crack and the current proprietor offers admittance in much the same way a carnival fortune teller might say "Welcome to the Casbah." The material is strange, old, mostly broken sets with an occasional glimmer of possibility. Is this where all broken sets go to die? He explains he doesn't really want to sell and as I look at his prices I believe him. God would need to mortgage heaven to buy vol. 17 of World Book. He tells me famous people come to buy here and when I press he says I can only tell you about people who are dead. To myself I'm thinking brain dead. Okay. Red Skelton. Hum. He mentions that his good material is upstairs but that the fire marshal prohibits second floor access. From outside I see the second and third floors are overflowing but he's adamant: no admission. I then begin to notice pornography sprinkled around and conclude the upstairs may have a different inventory than I'm expecting. After an hour I'm off, the mystery unresolved. Upstairs it's Captain Cook or Captain Kook -- I may never know.

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