AE Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2009 Issue

New Acquisitions in Americana from the William Reese Company

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New acquisitions at the William Reese Company.


By Michael Stillman

The William Reese Company has issued its 272nd catalogue, New Acquisitions in Americana. These are all works pertaining to North America that Reese has not offered in any previous catalogues. They are all significant works, some qualifying as very important to American history. While Reese publishes catalogues on other types of books, Americana is their specialty, and they are preeminent booksellers in the field. Here are a few of the new titles being offered.

Item 55 is a copy of the fourth and best edition of Benjamin Franklin's Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America... To describe Franklin as multitalented would be an understatement. He is most noted as one of America's most influential diplomats, essential to bringing France in on the Americans' side during the Revolution. His other notable careers included printer, almanac publisher, and perhaps most important, scientist. His research with electricity has led to his recognition as America's leading scientist of the 18th century. This fourth edition of his experiments with electricity was the first containing his complete notes and correspondence on the subject. Priced at $13,500.

Here is a story that would have dominated cable news had it happened today. Alexander Hamilton, America's first Secretary of the Treasury, had been caught making payments to one James Reynolds. The expose implied that he was personally speculating with government funds, forcing Hamilton to reveal the truth. It wasn't pretty. Item 63 is his response to the charges: Observations on Certain Documents...in which the Charge of Speculation Against Alexander Hamilton...is Fully Refuted. The fact was that Hamilton was having an affair with Reynolds' wife, and had paid him off to keep quiet. The revelation refuted the charges of corruption, but the embarrassing details effectively destroyed his political career. The first edition of this item, published by Hamilton himself, was mostly bought up and destroyed by his family. This copy is from the 1800 second edition, published by his enemies to keep the scandal in the public eye during the election of 1800. $1,250.

Item 35 is a book that was hardly worth the effort. It is A Digest of the Military and Naval Laws of the Confederate States... compiled by W.W. Lester and William J. Bromwell. Published in 1864, it sets forth details on military regulations, salaries, rations, employment of Blacks, and so on. However, the publication date hints at the futility of the enterprise, as it would be just a matter of months before the Confederate government would be no more. $1,000.

Item 75 is a rare and unusual work, The American Woods, Exhibited by Actual Specimens and with Copious Explanatory Text, by Romeyn Beck Hough. Reese calls this rarity a "labor of love." It contains 14 volumes, the first 13 published between 1893-1913, the last volume in 1928 by his daughter after Hough's death. The volumes are arranged by region, and they contain samples of the various types of wood, sliced so thin as to be translucent. The relatively high price of the work ($5 per volume) and the long period over which it was published make complete sets of this unusual work very rare. $32,500.

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