Diversity and the Unusual from W. C. Baker's First Catalogue
- by Michael Stillman
Diversity and the Unusual from W. C. Baker's First Catalogue
This month we review the first catalogue from W. C. Baker Rare Books and Ephemera. Last month we wrote about Will Baker's return to full-time bookselling from the Pittsburgh-Cleveland area (click here). This month we take a look at Baker's first catalogue, appropriately titled Catalog One. Baker describes it as "a selection of unusual printed and manuscript works relating to magic, medicine, museums, religion, science, the stage, and other diverse subjects." What we find is indeed a diverse selection of works, with many of them at least bordering on the unusual. Here are a few samples.
Thomas Paine was one of America's founders, his Common Sense being an inspiration for the revolution that set the nation free. And yet, by the end of his life, Paine was a pariah in the land he helped free, no one even willing to accept his body for burial. Such was the dark side of religion. The cause of Paine's fall was his unwillingness to accept revealed religion, the Bible, Christianity. Most considered Paine an atheist, though this was not accurate. He was more a Deist, a believer in one God who believed that God's nature could be understood through reason, not books or words uttered by man. By the middle of the 19th century, some were calling to rehabilitate Paine, considering him a good man, even if mistaken in some beliefs. Attempts at rehabilitation fell hand in hand with the spiritualist movement centered in mid-century Rochester, New York, in this book by Charles Hammond, a Universalist minister who became a spiritual medium: Light from the Spirit World. The Pilgrimage of Thomas Paine, and Others, to the Seventh Circle of the Spirit World, published in 1852. Hammond allegedly spoke with the deceased Paine and others, and listened in on their conversations. What we find is that Paine is now doing well in the after-world, despite his prior beliefs that many thought would condemn him to Hell. Sure, Paine made some mistakes on Earth – who hasn't? - but where he was mistaken, he acknowledges his errors, and all's well that ends well. This conclusion is certainly consistent with Hammond's Universalist faith, and hopefully all has ended well for this great American patriot, but one suspects Hammond's conversations with Paine were more in his imagination than in the world of spirits. Item 31. Priced at $300.
While Paine had few takers for his radical thoughts, the religion of America's Puritan founders had swung decidedly more liberal at the end of the 18th century, breaking off into Unitarian and Congregationalist wings. Even the more traditional Congregationalists had become too liberal for some, and a more orthodox wing at Harvard broke away to found Andover Seminary. Item 4 is an attack on this group in an 1826 broadside from Boston headed The Moloch of Orthodoxy. The "Moloch of Orthodoxy" is the the writer's description of the breakaway group's vision of God. The writer describes this orthodox God as "delighting in the eternal damnation of myriads of human beings and to glut his devilish appetite, has fore-ordained from all eternity, that a certain number of the human race shall writhe and gnash their teeth in eternal agonies, plunged in a burning pool of liquid fire; and not because they were more wicked than the rest of mankind, but because it is his SOVEREIGN WILL." $750.
This is all getting very heavy, so let's move to some lighter fare – Linus the Wonder Horse. Item 48 is a broadside promoting an exhibition of Linus, headed 15,000 People have seen Linus The Horse With the Long Mane and Tail! Long, indeed. The mane was 14 feet long with several feet dragging on the ground. It is a wonder the wonder horse wasn't constantly tripping over his mane. The hair on his tail extended 12 feet. Linus was supposedly descended from a breed known as the Oregon Long-Haired Wild Wonder Horses, though later historians believe they were the offspring of selective breeding, sort of like Clydesdales. Considering the showmanship of the day, one wonders whether Linus was faked, perhaps his mane filled with mane extensions, but it appears he was as hairy as represented. Perhaps the selective breeding had a downside, as it often does, as Linus died in 1894 at the age of just 10. There was a Linus II, but this broadside is for the original Linus, as it promoted an appearance in Maine in 1891 for the "Samson among Equines." You can find pictures of Linus and a few other Oregon Wonder Horses online, and if you want to remember the mane, you will have to view these pictures. Somehow in the ensuing years, the breed died out. $125.
I can believe that Oregon Long-Haired Wonder Horses existed, but am more dubious about the existence of the creature described in The Old Whig: or, the Consistent Protestant. Thursday, November 10, 1737. Some fishermen brought their net ashore, and when opened, "to their great Surprize, a Creature of human Shape, having two Legs, leaped out of the Net, and ran away with great Swiftness..." No wonder they were surprized. Unable to overtake the creature, they threw sticks at it. When they caught up, it groaned like a human, keeled over and died. It had webbed feet, facial features resembling a human, and a tail like a salmon along with its two feet. It was four feet tall. It was exhibited in Exeter and London, and reportedly Horace Walpole, son of the Prime Minister, viewed the creature. Item 59. $200.
Item 83 is "The Last Writing" of Marion Ira Stout; Containing His Confession... Stout left his last writing behind in his cell when he unsuccessfully attempted suicide a few days before his execution. Stout was convicted for the terribly botched murder of his brother-in-law, Charles Littles. Conspiring with his sister, Sarah, to lure Littles to a cliff, Stout hit his in-law in the head with a hammer and pushed him over the edge. The intention was that Littles would fall into a river below and be carried away. However, the body did not reach the river, so Stout proceeded down the sharp slope to complete the job. He fell to a ledge below, breaking his arm. It was the same ledge where Littles' body had fallen. Stout cried out to his sister, who came to rescue him, only falling to the same ledge herself, breaking her wrist. Still, they managed to push Littles' body off the ledge, only to have it come to rest on the river bank. Stout was quickly arrested, tried for murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. Still, despite his obvious guilt, Stout had some notable defenders. He otherwise seemed a nice enough guy, and many believed he was trying to save his sister from a drunken, philandering, abusive husband (others believed his motivation was incest). Among those to speak out for Stout were Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. It was to no avail, and in a horrible conclusion, the execution was as botched as the murder, the hangman's rope failing to break Stout's neck and leaving him struggling for 20 minutes before dying. Sarah got seven years in Sing Sing prison. $450.