Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - October - 2010 Issue

David Lesser Antiquarian Books Offers Rare and Antique Americana

Lesser115

Catalogue 115 from David M. Lesser.


By Michael Stillman

David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their 115th catalogue of Rare Americana. That is mostly correct, although a few items stretch the borders of America, such as the chronological history of the Bible. Every rule has its exceptions. Most of what you will find here pertains to America, primarily pamphlets published in either the late 18th or 19th centuries. Again, this timeline has its exceptions too, but the above describes the bulk of the material offered. Here are a few samples.

Item 115 staked out an unusual position during the great controversy over the annexation of Texas in the 1830s and 40s. The item is A Glance at Texas... by Thomas J. Morgan, published in 1844. Annexation was controversial not so much because some people were concerned about expansion, or even about offending Mexico. Texas, which permitted slavery once it overthrew Mexican rule, found itself at the heart of this rapidly growing controversy between pro and anti-slavery forces. The South and those sympathetic to slavery wanted Texas to join the Union as it would increase the strength of their side. Abolitionists were vehemently opposed. Morgan's position is unusual, as he was anti-slavery but pro annexation. Morgan describes slavery as "a monstrous sin," but argues quixotically that annexing Texas would help to dilute slavery. Morgan believed that the American presence in Texas would somehow interfere with the then illegal slave trade and result in the gradual abolishment of the terrible institution. Priced at $3,000.

Here's a title that sounds like it could have been written by Darwin: Origin of Man. Well, it sounds Darwinian until you read the rest of the title: A Treatise of Angels, Devils and Men, and a Compendium of a War in Heaven; which is the Answer to the Question: What is Man? It's probably safe to assume that author James P. Simmons did not base his conclusions on observations of nature in the manner of Darwin. How he came to his conclusions is unclear, but Simmons theory was that the souls of men existed before the creation of earth. We were all angels, but sadly, we are fallen angels, rebels in heaven who served Satan, and who were thus cast out onto earth. This does not bode well for our long-term prospects. Item 140. $150.

"Dog and pony show" has become a colloquial expression for a staged performance, usually meant to convince people of some point or other. It's not generally said with great respect. What people who use the phrase may not realize is that it comes from another era when there were, quite literally, dog and pony shows. These were generally sort of a low budget circus. They may not have had performing lions and elephants, but they did manage to come up with performing dogs and ponies. Item 68 is a four-page folded circular announcing, Coming! Coming! Prof. Gentry's Equine & Canine Paradox. That's fancy language for dog and pony show. This is from the late 19th century. Henry B. Gentry formed this traveling show, and was later joined by his three brothers. It grew to be known as the Gentry Brothers Famous Shows, and became a full-fledged circus, with elephants and even performing humans. It closed its doors for good during the Depression. Item 68. $350.

Item 166 is an obscurity collectors of America's Manifest Destiny President, James K. Polk, may want to add to their collection: Thorough Churchmanship the Highest Style of Christian Character. A Sermon, Preached at the Funeral of Mrs. Belinda Dickinson Polk... Mrs. Polk was the wife of President Polk's brother, William Hawkins Polk. The latter Polk served his brother as Ambassador to Italy, served in the Mexican War his brother started, and later became a congressman. Unfortunately, Mrs. Polk did not see any of these achievements. She died in 1844, the year her brother-in-law was elected President. This sermon in her honor was preached by Rev. J.T. Wheat. $275.

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