Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2009 Issue

A New AED Source: Early Railroad Literature

Clop.1

A Collector's Gem


By Bruce McKinney

In 1942 the New York Public Library issued a 250 page catalogue on early books and other printed materials relating to the development of the railroad in the United States. It's a gem and we have added it both to the Americana Exchange Database and have created a Wiki Bibliography based on it. There are 2,865 entries for the period 1800 to 1840. It's a remarkable picture of early railroad development.

The 1841 cut-off seems to almost predate railroads but it turns out interest in rights-of-way and rail systems based on pre-steam power made the subject of "rail roads" a well-developed idea by 1840. The explosion in railroad construction, a national obsession to build railroads to connect almost every burg, village, town, city and port, would begin in earnest to take hold in the 1840's and lead to widespread railroad bankruptcies in the 1870's. In time many branch and feeder lines would be consolidated into the trunk systems from which the major 20th century American railroads emerged.

In the mid 19th century American population was mostly rural and there seemed to be little expectation among railroad promoters that, rather than simply connecting the countryside to cities, railroads would facilitate city migration. It turned out to be more of a one way street than most expected because [1] increasing farm efficiency reduced the labor component per bushel and gallon and [2] the developing industrial economy created better paying jobs in metropolitan areas. For many, once they saw city life, there was no going back except for the occasional visit. The mass exodus, already underway, would accelerate with the easy access and egress that railroads provided but more and more of the tickets would be one way. With the coming of the automobile even the trunk lines, that succeeded the initial panoply of branch lines, would begin to fail. Peoples' commitment was to convenience and all forms of transportation simply a means. Today the few feeder lines that still exist and offer coach service are novelties, Sunday excursions for holiday seekers.

This source captures a fair picture of the development of railroads in America as it enters the industrial age. The sources identified, begin in 1800 with references to the first efforts to transport by rail if not yet by steam power. Fulton applied steam, as a source of power, to boats in the first decade of the nineteenth century. George Stevens, of New Jersey, did the same for the railroad in 1826. By the early 1830's, demonstration railroads were operating in half a dozen states. By mid-decade, the railroad as corporation was emerging. By 1840 the nation was on the verge of transformation from an agricultural to an industrial economy. The railroads would turn out to be merely relay runners on a race on which they ran a single lap. In their time they were essential but soon expendable and it quickly turned out that most towns had too little to send out or bring in to justify the capital and labor involved. What no town was willing to live without in the 1850s and 1860s soon became failed investments in the 1870s.

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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