By Bruce McKinney
In building a collection of Hudson Valley [New York] material I've been buying things for years. Along the way I've acquired important and unimportant, expensive and inexpensive, common and rare pieces. I'm not anywhere near complete but probably have one of the better such collections in private hands. It's not that anyone would want to duplicate it. To me it's simply an interesting and compelling challenge.
Recently I ran across an intriguing item, The Pearl, a magazine complete in twelve issues, published in Saugerties and printed in Rondout during 1875. It is an early local photographic essay and history printed in monthly installments. In my research for AE on 19th century magazines I learned of it while running keyword searches for place names with date ranges. It's not in Mott's A History of American Magazines, a sure-fire indication it's either spell-blindingly rare or very unimportant. It is certainly rare and probably important at least to local history and photography collectors. The images, of which there are three per issue and thirty-six in total, portray local life in the same hard light Thomas Eakins painted his Schuylkill rowing pictures a few years earlier. These photographs, taken only ten years after the end of the Civil War, are stark in a Brady battlefield way.
The American Antiquarian Society has a complete set of the twelve issues which can not be identified online but are referenced in their Union List of Periodicals. The OCLC lists six locations. The Library of Congress has a copy but it is incomplete, having only 9 issues.
A month ago I found on Abe a complete set of twelve and a second, separate listing for 14 random issues. I bought the complete copy for $450, received it and then bought the random monthly segments for $220. This material is precious, a great find and continuing evidence of what I've only recently come to understand: the majority of collectible printed material has yet to be systematically catalogued. Like so much other early printed material it is important, rare and unknown. Every day obscuranta comes up and sells but fails to make it into any permanent record and so falls back into the unknown to be periodically rediscovered and lost again in the future. Much of what we do on AE is to document this dark side of the moon.
Now, let me quote the two men, Leon Barritt and Edward Jernegan listed as proprietors and actually the publishers of this gem The Pearl, explaining their purposes in its first issue,
"The Pearl...comes...monthly, inlaid, as it were, with perfect little pearls of photographic views of our public buildings, private residences, and the choicest of the great natural beauties in the very midst of which Saugerties is situated..."
For each issue "three pages will be devoted to photographs, four to reading matter, and one only will be used as an advertising medium, making, when bound at the end of the year, a volume of ninety-six pages, thirty-six of which will be mounted with photographs. The reading matter will treat principally upon the illustrations, and home topics, and shall be made, to the best of our ability, moral and instructive."