Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2014 Issue

A Diamond in the Coal Mine

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Recently, on eBay an item was offered that looked interesting.  The title, Guide Book to Lake Mohonk – New Paltz, Ulster Co., N. Y., and the date, 1875, marked it as very early in the history of the Smiley family’s development of the Lake Mohonk resort that would become over the next four decades the majestic attraction it remains today.

 

The 7-day listing was spare:

 

1875

Guide book to Lake Mohonk New Paltz Ulster County New York State

Many photographs throughout the book

Book shows wear from age and use.  Marks on covers, foxing on pages, wear on edges.

See pictures for details.

The starting price was $14.95.

 

A look in the AED showed a series of records of this book, all from Goodspeed’s, in 1933 and 1935 for sixty-five cents and in 1968 for $10.00.  The two listings in the 1930’s were identical and the 1968 elaborated the listing but was hardly substantial.  It read:

 

[New York]

Guide Book to Lake Mohonk, New Paltz, Ulster Co., N.Y.

Illus.  [mounted photographs]

1875

$10.00

1968

Providence [R.I.]

 

I didn’t initially realize that the “many photographs throughout” referred to images pasted on the pages.  Early, for Ulster County, photography usually merits some touting but the subdued description didn’t leave me expecting anything but printed images that would still be quite interesting.

A look in the OCLC identifieded 16 copies in the system.  That’s a small number but hardly excessively rare.  Here’s the list:

Yale University

American Antiquarian Society

Univ. of Michigan, William Clemens Library

University of New Mexico

Columbia University

Cornell University

George Eastman House

New York Historical Society Library

New York Public Library

New York State History Association

New York State Library

SUNY College at Plattsburgh

University of Rochester

Haverford College

University of Texas, Austin, Harry Ransom Library

 

These libraries are almost all in the first tier of historical printed collections, suggesting experienced professionals have thought the book important.

 

But here is the thing.  At the same time this book was published stereoscopic cards were becoming the next new thing and the images, 30 single images, in the Guide Book, match the double images [and descriptions] of the “first series” of stereoscopic images of Lake Mohonk issued by J. Loeffler, Tompkinsville, Staten Island, N. Y. that, though not dated, appear to be contemporary and identical. 

 

This suggests that although the book is undeniably rare the images, that make the book distinctive, are less so as evidenced by the fact they come up on eBay several times a year and sell for modest prices.  Granted, many of these Mohonk images appearing on eBay are later variations but some identical images also come up as some did recently and sold for about $10 an image in the stereopticon form.  To a collector this all may not matter much but for valuation purposes it certainly diminishes the book’s value.

 

But all is not lost.  In the Thompkins series that matches the Mohonk images, “Scenery of Lake Mohonk and Vicinity” first and second series, there are 62 images divided into two groups 1-31 and 32-62, each set briefly described on the back of the 62 double image cards.  The book, by comparison, contains 30 of these images and most are in near to stellar condition because they have not been much exposed to light.  The stereopticon images by comparison are badly faded, in some cases faintly visible.   

 

As well I have never seen complete sets of these images.  In most cases it’s just a few of them that come up for sale and they tend to be the same images.

 

So the pristine condition of the images pasted into the book and the fact that there are 30 of them restores some of the book’s luster.

 

Finally, there is some light water damage to a few pages and the back cover that does not affect any of the images but that, for some purists, will rule this book out.  For myself, it’s a gem anyway, valuable to me, but not necessarily valuable to others.

 

As to the text in the book it describes the hikes and routes through the Mohonk and Minnewaska holdings.  The descriptions, fresh then, remain durable today because these properties have been maintained in their original state, the roads then built for horses, today still are only horse and hiking paths.

 

For those who know Mohonk the scenery would be recognizable.  The structures have been rebuilt, the hotel is visually transformed and the Skytop Tower replaced, for it was wood in 1875 and in 1911 was rebuilt as a limestone monument to Albert K. Smiley who saw magic in the Shawangunk Mountain setting and brought it to life.

 

So what is its value?  In my view $1,500, a nice markup on the $37.00 I paid on eBay.  And more than that, to an Ulster County collector, it’s simply irreplaceable, even precious.

 

Here is a link to Lake Mohonk today.  It is a world class resort with a stong commitment to its history.


Posted On: 2014-08-01 16:50
User Name: ChristiesNew10

Here's a nice note, Bruce: I looked up an appraisal I did for Mohonk, six or so years ago, and included was an 1875 edition of the guidebook which I appraised for: $1,500. Proving once again, what they say about great minds!


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