A Catalogue of Colonial Americana<br>From the William Reese Company
By Michael Stillman
America’s colonial period is a relatively overlooked time among collectors. There were no great wars like the Revolution or the Civil War. The French and Indian War was about the best the period could muster. There were no presidents to collect. There was no great westward expansion to report upon. There were few great American writers, scientists, explorers, or other cultural icons to accumulate. The one exception here would be clergy, but clergymen rarely generate the excitement of presidents and other celebrities. And, of course, there was much less material printed back then.
Nevertheless, the William Reese Company has put together a catalogue of 190 items primarily from what would become the United States of America before there was a United States of America. From early settlements to theological disputes, Indian captivities, and disagreements with the British leading up to the Revolution, it’s all here in “Colonial Americana,” Reese’s 230th catalogue.
One of the earliest and most important works about North America in English is John Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England…1584 to this Present 1624. What immediately jumps out, besides Smith’s strange spelling, is that this book was published just four years after the arrival of the Pilgrims, and this came years after most of the events described. Smith was a leader of the pre-Pilgrim Virginia settlement, and is something of a controversial figure. Some believe he was prone to exaggeration if not downright fabrication in his writings. The question of whether he was actually saved by Pocahontas will probably never be answered with certainty. Still, Smith was a leader of the Jamestown settlement and provides the most authoritative eyewitness account you’ll find. Item 158. Priced at $125,000.
Almost as early a title is Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan or New Canaan, published in 1637. Morton sailed to New England in 1622 and quickly found himself at loggerheads with the Puritans of Plymouth. He did not share their austere religious sentiments. He went on to form his own settlement, called “Ma Re (Merry) Mount” in present day Quincy, Massachusetts. His Puritan neighbors could not tolerate the drinking, cavorting with native women, and general good times that went on in his settlement, so Morton was exiled back to England. He would return, be exiled again, return again, and finally move to what is today Maine for the final years of his life. Though unsuccessful at reforming the Massachusetts colony in his lifetime, he would probably be pleased to see the action down at the Water Works and Marina Bay in Quincy today. While exiled to England, he would produce this book, which would give detailed and sympathetic accounts of the native Indians, promote the potential of New England to old England, and retell the stories of his battles with the Puritans. Item 117. $50,000.
Carolina histories may not be quite as old, but John Archdale’s A New Description of that Fertile and Pleasant Province of Carolina does date to 1707. Archdale served as Colonial Governor from 1695-1697 and has been credited with introducing the cultivation of rice to the settlement. What would Carolina be without Carolina rice? This book describes attempts to build industry and agriculture in the colony and describes the local Indian population. Item 5. $20,000.