Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2007 Issue

The Black Orchid of Ohio

Ohio1.a

An exceptional copy of an important book.


By Bruce McKinney

On December 6th, at Cowan's in Cincinnati, a remarkable book will be offered as part of a sale that is deep with interesting material. This story is about that book, a first printing of the first book printed in Ohio: The Laws of the Territory of the United States North-West of the Ohio, the Aitchison-Wessen-Dush-Emerson copy. To the cognoscenti this is simply "The Maxwell Code," named for its printer and the short term for laws. It was purchased by Bob and Dorothy Emerson, then of Connecticut, on December 15th, 1997 at the sale of "The Americana Library of Joseph F. Dush, of Willard, Ohio," a sale conducted by the Baltimore Book Company in Timonium, Maryland. No copy in private hands is considered perfect but this copy comes close. It was not described that way but was known to several bidders to be exceptional. It was described as lacking the leaf A2, but a recent examination of other copies confirms the A2 was a "cancelled" leaf and never present. The title page of this copy has a chip missing from the right lower corner and another chip affecting a few letters on one inside page. It's in "contemporary pasteboard wraps," and the only copy in private hands in original condition. Other copies that have passed through dealer hands and the auction rooms over the past fifty years have had more significant problems and have been disbound, rebacked or rebound. It's an extraordinary survival, the best known copy in private hands of a book that is coveted.

Every book and every copy has a story. This story is particularly interesting.

Ernest Wessen [1887-1974], the great bookseller of Mansfield, Ohio issued 104 well researched catalogues under the title "Midland Notes" during his career. In catalogue 25, dated December 1st, 1945, he includes both illustration and description of the only one of four copies he handled that he ever included in a catalogue. He described it as:

"Undoubtedly the most noteworthy copy extant of the first book printed west of the Ohio River. Imprint Inventory No. 1. It being wholly uncut and unopened; it becomes the standard by which all other copies must be measured, and is substantially larger than the dimensions of the largest provided. The missing lower half [of the title page] is more than offset by the unique characteristics of this copy. At the top of page iii appears the signature of one EZRA FREEMAN; perhaps a member of the family which printed the next edition of the Laws of the N. W. Territory..."

Eighteen years later, in 1963, begins the saga of a better copy, the best he ever handled, the volume that now heads into the auction rooms on December 6th. That spring, one of Wessen's book scouts turned up a copy in Kansas that he would later describe as "the greatest item to have passed through my hands." He was speaking of this copy.

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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