Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2008 Issue

An Update on Joel Munsell, 19th Century Albany Printer

Unlikely.binding

A garish binding by a straightlaced printer.


By Bruce McKinney

For more than three years, I have been searching the internet for "re-appearances" of books, manuscripts and ephemera printed [and or written] by Joel Munsell, the 19th century Albany printer-author- scholar-entrepreneur. Mr. Munsell was at heart a job printer who, while earning a living, also indulged his passion for history and thereby attracted a steady flow of projects in the category. These productions are today the more valuable items within the thousands of jobs he printed during his fifty-year career. Their value, or frequent lack of it, is not however the basis of my interest. Mr. Munsell was unique in the 19th century for his record keeping. Others kept records. He kept records and published them in Munselliana, an inventory of the broadsides, pamphlets and books he printed between 1828 and 1871. In this way, his production records have become accessible to those interested today. For about one thousand of the 2,268 items detailed, the quantity printed, is given. These quantity-identified items periodically come up on line making it possible to track reappearances statistically and develop theories to explain the consistencies and inconsistencies encountered. Form, size and subject become variables with hundreds of examples and ultimately thousands of reappearances to give weight to interpretation. Hence, what was impossible to know a few years ago now, because of the internet, becomes not only possible; it begins to look in time likely we will conclusively confirm probability of re-appearance and be able to assign weight to variables. For instance, it is already clear that the number of pages is second only to form of binding as a predictor of survival. Size matters.

For 45% of Munsell's production we have item details, print runs and increasing data on frequency of appearance [FOA]. For 55% we have item details and FOA data but not the quantity printed. Based on the statistics developed from the one thousand items whose print runs are known, it should be possible to estimate print runs for material in the second group based on frequency of reappearance and in time to confirm the validity of the research anecdotally. This could lead to a more general print run theory in five years and potentially to a Howes Usiana type of quantity projection for material printed by others. Such a theory will be opposed by some who prefer bookselling be a black art. Collectors, however, will demand clarity as a condition for purchase and the market will adjust. The field has been more an art than a science. Over the next ten years, it becomes more of a science.

So how is information-based collecting going? I live in the efficient market and here share a pastiche of recent Munsell purchases I made mostly on eBay. I acquire material on Abe, other listings sites, at auction and from dealer catalogues but for Munsell printings eBay is well suited to disperse the hodge podge of material that passed through the Munsell presses.

Recently I acquired a dozen items for $772. The most expensive was a small folio 1860 reprint of Hamor's 1615 Virginia. This is Munsell at his gaudiest, one of 200 copies. It cost $311. The great find was a full bound year of the Mechanics' Journal, an 1846-1847 weekly magazine that escaped mention in Munselliana. Munsell and Robert MacFarlane together signed the publisher's statement. This gem cost $182.

A single issue of the Vermont Quarterly Gazetteer opened my eyes to another very attractive publication Munsell printed in the early 1860s. It is beautifully illustrated.

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 Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500

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