Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2008 Issue

The Civil War as Collecting Focus

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Civil Wars - personal and national history.


By Bruce McKinney

This month's issue of the Comet focuses on the American Civil War and by extension, all other such wars that are always occuring and seem to have always been occuring. The Civil War of the United States, 1861-1865 is but one example. In the 20th century 110 civil wars have been documented. They are so common and so violent that few people alive today are entirely untouched.

The American Civil War though is long enough past that it now belongs entirely to history. No human beings that experienced it first hand still live and so we are relieved of all first hand pain. We are then reliant on records be they books, analysis, histories, memoirs, atlases, letters, pamphlets, ribbons, guns, swords, or paintings. In its passing into history we now both remember and interpret the Civil War, investing in it meaning and emphasis by what we choose to hold close.

The majority of Americans have some tangible connection. By bloodline, their own or by marriage through a spouse, it is more common to be connected than not. These days various websites offer paths back to connections unknown, names forgotten, to events that until their rediscovery through searches, may not even have ever been hinted. Such discoveries ignite interest, encourage speculation and send us back into time to understand in personal ways what we may never have understood were our forebearer's perspectives and experiences.

Today more than half of all Americans and to a lesser extent but still a significant percentage elsewhere in the world, are looking back. For many, wars are the salient events in part because in the confusion and destruction of war, more personal history is made, recorded and remembered. It's no accident that the American Civil War has come alive again. Books, full of facts, lost to all but the cognoscenti are scanned at every hour by individuals, dot orgs, dot coms and Google - all adding to the bouliabaise of information. Windows on the past, not so long ago impenetrable walls, now open to those with the skills and interest to look. Our newest frontier is our past.

Booksellers are not necessarily scholars. Some are and others are simply scholarly. They may lack a Ph.D but have learned to understand their material and to describe it well, often incorporating the emerging terms that this generation of deja-viewers is learning to use to unearth material of personal interest. It's a challenge to describe material in ways that were historically improbable, certainly unnecessary and until a few years ago completely unknown. Today they have become necessary. The challenge of the web has not only been that more material has become available, it's that the very way the material, to be found, increasingly requires non-traditional descriptions to be captured within the scope of the new collector's searches. We are at that moment, sawing through the clear board and encountering a knot, when the seller must adjust their perspective to that of the searcher. The rudimentary title, author, place and date printed are no longer sufficient. Relevance is the new currency.

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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