Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2005 Issue

What we can learn about book collecting from Joel Munsell

Alby1

A printer with a taste for history.


By Bruce McKinney

Joel Munsell [1808-1880] was a printer in Albany, New York. He was also a record keeper and we are indebted to him for this. In what would be a long career that begins in 1828 with his printing of the Albany Minerva, a newspaper that lasted 8 issues, he begins the record keeping that would, seven years after the Civil War ended, be the first entry in his Bibliotheca Munselliana [in the AED and provided as part of this article], a useful but incomplete record of the books and pamphlets and occasional ephemera he printed during his career. In Munselliana, there are 2,283 entries and on the internet today circumstantial evidence of perhaps another 750 unrecorded or simply forgotten items that will in time be added to the Munsell canon. With this information we can reconstruct his career, enumerate his works and learn something about pricing and availability logic on the net.

What makes his record keeping so valuable are two factors: the extensive range of the printing: a specimen of type faces, the by-laws of a corporation, the contents of a library, a bookseller's catalogue, magazines, sermons and of course books and the fact that he kept records of how many copies he printed. More precisely, for about half of the items detailed in his personal printing history, the number of copies is provided. So we know that he printed 200 copies of the Constitution and By-Laws of Eagle Division No. 306, of the Sons of Temperance of the State of New York; approved by the Grand Division, April 4, 1848 [pp.36.]. We can also see that he printed 580 copies of an Agreement between the Albany and Schenectady Rail Road , and Schenectady and Troy Rail Road Company,... in 1853 [pp.36] to name just two.

When we then search ABE using Munsell in KEYWORD in their advanced search screen we find a random selection of 2,257 Munsell-printed and Munsell-related items. Much of this material isn't applicable so now we add a date range: 1828 to 1870 and the matches drop to 433. This is not 433 different titles mind you. It is simply 433 matching items and they include 91 reprints. Of the remaining 342 matches there are 148 separate titles, an average of 2.31 matches for each. One item, recorded as only "18 copies printed" in Munselliana is found and others identified as "4,000 copies printed" are not. It is absolutely random.

Among the 148 titles on ABE identified as Munsell imprints a surprising number turn out not to be in Munselliana. In fact 25% of the ABE listings aren't there. This leads to the conclusion that the full world of Munselliana is probably closer to 3,000 items and here is how I get there. In Munselliana there are 2,283 items that Munsell identifies as his. Whether his indicia is present is not an issue as he says they are his. In the ABE listings I identify 148 separate Munsell items based on descriptions provided by sellers of which 37 are not listed in Munselliana. To confirm this I order a random group of these items and confirm they are "real." To me this strongly suggests that approximately one quarter of the Munsell printings are not accounted for in Munselliana. That said, if 2283 equals three quarters, then Joel Munsell actually printed 3,044 +/- items. For collectors this is either really good or really bad news. There should be no shortage of Munsell material but there is.

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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