Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2012 Issue

The War of 1812 - Observing Its 200th Anniversary

Jaxno

General Jackson takes on the British at New Orleans (perhaps a bit stylized).

We saw great celebrations around the land when America observed the 200th anniversary of the Revolution. Similar events have been featured at notable anniversaries of Civil War events. This month, we note the 200th anniversary of the beginning of America's first real, post-independence war. Celebrations will be more subdued.

The Revolutionary, Civil, First and Second World Wars gather the most attention, but more of America's skirmishes have been akin to the War of 1812. Not a lot was accomplished, and in hindsight, one wonders why this thing couldn't have been avoided. The War of 1812 was the ultimate stalemate. Both sides could claim victory, because no one really won. However, one notable result did come from this war. Outside of some minor border scraps along the U.S. Canadian line, it marked the end of hostilities between America and its former colonial ruler, Great Britain. The terrible confrontations and fights between the two were over, and one of the strongest and longest-lasting friendships was about to be forged. Unlike World War I, at least in this limited sense, the War of 1812 proved to be the war to end all wars.

If the War of 1812 is a minor memory in American history, it must be virtually invisible in England. At least at the time, it was a major event for Americans. Great Britain had been fighting in some war or other almost constantly for about a thousand years. Who could tell one war from another? They were always fighting the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, or all of them at any given moment. In fact, the British had just concluded a war with Sweden. Sweden! Who fights Sweden? It was more a war on paper than actual fighting, but war had been declared. The British fought in so many wars against the Europeans they had to resort to naming them by the number of years – the Seven Years' War, the Thirty Years War, the Hundred Years War. This was a nation that went to war over someone's ear, the infamous War of Jenkins' Ear. Even as they went to battle with the United States, they were engaged in a much more serious war in Europe, against Napoleon. Who would be surprised if the British couldn't remember much about the War of 1812?

Through the first dozen years of the 19th century, America was regularly in disputes with both England and France. Those two nations, as usual, were fighting over whatever they were fighting over at that particular moment. Neither wanted other nations trading with their enemy, so they regularly intercepted U.S. shipping. This incensed America, which, as a neutral nation, asserted its right to trade with whomever it chose. The U.S. tried various embargoes against the European combatants, but to no avail. However, the British particularly angered Americans by their policy of impressment of American seamen. England believed that American seamen had been born British subjects, and therefore they had the right to draft them into the Royal Navy. They accomplished this on the spot, forcing them off of U.S. merchant ships and into their navy. Add to that, the British liked to stir up trouble from Canada, such as encouraging western Indians to attack far off American outposts. It was just too much. On June 18, 1812, President Madison selected the British as the worst offender, and the War of 1812 was on.

The Americans attacked the British in Canada, but to no avail. The British pushed them back, but never penetrated that deeply into the U.S. either. It was essentially a stalemate. Once Napoleon had been put in his place, in the year 1814, it freed up more British forces to deal with those American upstarts. The British Navy entered Chesapeake Bay and began wreaking havoc on America. They burned down Washington, and then moved on to Baltimore. On that famous night, the Americans held off British bombardments of Fort McHenry. In the morning, our flag was still there. The Americans may not have gained any territory through the war, but they did gain a national anthem. And Francis Scott Key's words were set to the melody of an old British drinking song no less. The British got the last laugh on that, as we notice every time some poor celebrity attempts to sing that tortured melody before a ballgame.

There really wasn't much more to fight about after that. In December of 1814, the two sides decided to call it off. In those days, communications were really slow, so the message did not reach British forces set to attack New Orleans. They attacked anyway, and were surprisingly routed by Andrew Jackson's defenders. America finally had its rousing victory, even if it came after the war was over. Along with The Star Spangled Banner, the War of 1812 gave us one of the top selling songs of the 1950s, The Battle of New Orleans.

So, Americans should raise a toast to their brave citizens who fought off the affront to their honor, and defended their homeland between 1812 and 1815. And, the British too, should honor their noble warriors who went off once again to fight over something or other. If nothing else, it provided practice for whatever their next war would be. A list of British wars indicates that later in 1815, the British would be back in battle again, in the Hundred Days (as opposed to Years) War and the Second Kandyan War. Don't ask me. I have no idea what that last one was about.

For collectors of books and other works on paper, the War of 1812 is a field not nearly so crowded as the better known wars. The competition is less fierce, and fewer people will be able to match your expertise. Along with remembering the battles themselves, the war thrust two generals into the White House, the aforementioned Andrew Jackson, and many years later, William Henry Harrison, who promptly died in office. Both are highly collectible, one for being a major force in American history, the other for the extreme rarity of material he signed as President (he served only 30 days, mostly from a sick bed). This is a field ripe for collecting. Oh say, can you see?

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Adams (Richard). <i>Watership Down,</i> FIRST EDITION, author inscription on front free end paper, folded map tipped in, original boards, dust-jacket. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bowles (John). <i>Several Prospects of the Most…la Ville de Londres, avec des Remarques Historiques fort Succinctes, qui les Regardant,</i> 20 double page engraved plates only, of 23, 1724. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Auden (W.H.). <i>Our Hunting Fathers,</i> FIRST SEPARATE EDITION, 1 of 22 copies, COPY B OF 5 PRINTED ON NORMANDIE, original patterned wrappers, Cambridge, for Frederic Prokosch, 1935. £800 to £1200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Barrie (J. M.) & Attwell (Mabel Lucie, illustrator). <i>Peter Pan & Wendy,</i> FIRST EDITION, 12 chromolithograph plates, publisher's blue cloth, original printed dust jacket, [c.1920]; and 3 others (4). £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bartolozzi (Francesco). Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce; Agriculture (Husbandry Aided by Arts and Commerce), glazed and framed. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> A collection of engraved caricatures, including Gillray ([James]) Tales of Wonder!, 1802; Rowlandson (Thomas) Sports, Smock Racing, 1811;Irish Jaunting Carr, 1814. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bennett (Charles H, illustrator). <i>Æsop’s Fables,</i> 1875; Buchanan (Robert). <i>Ballad Stories of the Affections,</i> [1866]; Douce (Francis), The Dance of Death, 1833. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Chinese Illustrations. A group of 6 Cantonese rice paper illustrations, depicting scenes of torture with different instruments, gouache, c.340 x 220mm, original wrapper boards preserved, [c. 1800]. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Dulac (Edmund). <i>The Queen of Romania, The Dreamer of Dreams,</i> 5 coloured plates, [1915]; and others illustrated by Edmund Dulac. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Fronth (Per). Xingu Chronicles, the portfolio, comprising 30 plates, photogravues in colours, each signed, dated and titled in pencil, each numbered 10/35, on wove paper, 790 x 600 x 60mm, 1997. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Pasternak (Boris). <i>Doctor Zhivago,</i> FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, original red publisher’s cloth, pictorial dust jacket, 4to, Collins & Harvill Press, 1958. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> 13 sepia photographs of visitors to the Thermes Nationaux d’Aix-les-Bains, c. 150 x 105mm, c.1890 (12). £300 to £400
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions