Rare and Obscure Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
By Michael Stillman
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their 94th catalogue of Rare Americana. This follows the pattern of most Lesser catalogues - obscure imprints from American colonial times roughly to the era of Reconstruction. The issues of the day, political, religious, moral, economic, and such are discussed by the people of the land from different points of view. These catalogues provide a look into the minds of Americans in the nation's formative years. However, this catalogue is distinguished from previous ones in one way - it is filled new obscurities, items we have not seen before. Lesser's catalogues are a must for Americana collectors, and this is no exception. Here are some samples.
Pre-Civil War politics is a personal favorite, as it's fascinating, with the benefit of hindsight, to watch the country try to avoid the almost inevitable conflagration barreling down upon it. Perhaps the cleverest political strategy during this period was that of Zachary Taylor, who got himself elected by saying nothing about the critical issues of the day. You could attribute to him whatever beliefs you wished. Typifying the General's campaign strategy is this eight-page pamphlet from 1848, Gen. Taylor's Moral, Intellectual, & Professional Character. In it, the writers attest to his "simplicity of manners, his humanity, his indomitable courage, his fearlessness, his firmness and determination, his condescension and familiarity, his vigilance in protecting his soldiers against imposition...his goodness of heart and kind feelings, and his punctuality in correspondence..." We know everything about Zachary Taylor, and yet we know nothing. He is punctual in responding to letters, but where does he stand on the issues? That is just how he wanted it, and it swept him into office. Item 37. Priced at $250.
Here is a family political dispute that managed to find its way into print. It is The Voter's Path to Duty in 1856. A Letter from Professor J.P. Dake, Addressed to C.M. Dake, M.D... Included with it is his brother's reply. Professor Dake was an avid supporter of the Republican candidate, John C. Fremont. He believes the Republicans will hold the line on compromises with the slave power that have been tearing apart the nation's unity. Dr. Dake, on the other hand, supported Millard Fillmore, candidate of the Know-Nothing Party. He argues in this testy exchange that his brother's "Freedom Screechers" threaten the Union. Ultimately, this family argument proved futile, as both of their candidates lost to James Buchanan. Item 32. $500.
Dr. Dake wasn't the only Know-Nothing with disdain for General Fremont. This pro-Fillmore 1856 Know-Nothing pamphlet is titled Fremont's Romanism. The pamphlet claims Fremont is a Roman Catholic, come to rule on behalf of the Church. It gives nineteen evidences that he is a Catholic, such as, "He was seen to dip his hand in holy water and cross himself in a Roman Catholic church." This seems unlikely, but if true, Fremont was probably just trying to get votes from the parishioners. Item 43. $250.