Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2005 Issue

Tracking Down Lost Lives: A Family For Sale on eBay

A0401

Family patriarch William T. Rudd,


By Michael Stillman

It may not be you, but there is probably some one of your kin who has kept a family album. It may take different forms, photos, letters, news clippings, anything that recounts the story of a life or lives. At one time vibrant and alive, eventually they and the lives they recorded fade away. What then becomes of these personal and family histories, these pieces of ephemera recording ephemeral lives? If only I could provide an answer worthy of such questions of mortality and immortality. Unfortunately, I cannot. But, for one man and his family, I can. They ended up on eBay. Fifty dollars bought the rights to the most cherished memories and remembrances of William P. Rudd and his family.

Who is William P. Rudd? He is not a great celebrity or historic figure. Nevertheless, he was not unimportant either. He was a prominent, respected man, who lived along the edges of influence and power in the capital of the largest state in the Union. He sat next to a President for dinner, received an audience with the Pope. He served on the Supreme Court of the State of New York. Most of his career was spent as an attorney in private practice, and his most important client was one of the major railways of the era, where his father had worked as a conductor. Not bad for the son of a railroad conductor. And still, here is what it comes to in the end. Fifty dollars for a collection of his, and his family's, lives.

When the album arrived, I opened it with much anticipation. There is nothing quite like the thrill of discovering some artifact of another time, whether it be in an attic, a yard sale, a bookshop, or....eBay. This one had an extra bit of relevance to me personally, as William Rudd lived his life in Albany, New York. All of my grandparents lived most or all of their lives in the Capital City. My parents grew up there; I visited often. In time, we moved to warmer climes. We were part of that great migration which explains why New York is no longer the most populous state in the nation. But, during the first half of the twentieth century, New York was a political powerhouse. From 1880-1948, New Yorkers would be elected President 7 times, finish second in the voting 8 times, and ascend to the presidency through assassination twice (but not one New Yorker has even been nominated since). This was the New York in which William Rudd lived.

The Rudd family album now in my possession is almost entirely a collection of newspaper clippings. William P. Rudd is the central character, but not the only one. What remains something of a puzzle is who compiled this album? We'll get back to this question after examining it, as being a sleuth is much of the fun in discovering old papers. While to some extent chronological, at times it is a bit haphazard. And while many articles are taped to the pages, there are at least as many loose ones floating around. They may provide some clues to the album's keeper.

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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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