Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - January - 2016 Issue

Historic Documents from Stuart Lutz

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An inscription from Martin Luther King to Pearl Buck.

Stuart Lutz Historic Documents has released a new catalogue of... historic documents. Lutz's catalogues don't come with titles so that is the best we can do. We'll identify it by the cover – Martin Luther King, represented by an inscription to Pearl Buck. One more thing about these historic documents – the great majority are signed. Here are a few of them.

 

That Martin Luther King inscription displayed on the cover of the catalogue was written in a copy of his book Stride Toward Freedom, published in 1958. It is King's description of the Montgomery Bus Boycott the previous year. King's leadership in the long boycott that ended the "back of the bus" rule for black riders was a seminal event in the early days of the Civil Rights movement, and it brought King to the forefront of that movement. The recipient of the book, Pearl Buck, grew up in an American missionary family in China, and her books, including The Good Earth, speak of life in China. She returned to America in 1932, age 40, and was a strong supporter of civil rights and wrote for the NAACP's magazine. King writes, "To Pearl Buck In appreciation for your genuine good-will, and your great humanitarian concern." Item 51. Priced at $24,000.

 

Here is another inscribed work between two notable figures, still well-known today almost a century later. The two couldn't have been more different. Then again, in a way both performed "magic." Harry Houdini was a true magician, causing his miracles through illusion. Thomas Edison used science to create his miracles, such as electric lights and talking machines. Item 42 is a first edition of Houdini's book A Magician Among The Spirits, inscribed to Edison and his wife in 1925. It's an expose of fraudulent seances. Edison had once talked jokingly of communicating with the spirit world, so this book would likely have been of interest to him. Houdini, though seeming to work in a world of magic, was always clear that what he was doing was strictly illusion and not magic. Houdini had already been connected to Edison for over a decade at this time, as another of Edison's projects was the movie projector, and he had recorded Houdini with his camera years earlier. $22,500.

 

Next we have another American inventor in the field of electronics, but one with a very dark side when it came to social views. Samuel F. B. Morse is known for the development of the telegraph, and the Morse Code that was used to communicate over its wires before Alexander Graham Bell discovered how to transport voice over wires. Unfortunately, Morse was also possessed of some very regressive, bigoted views toward people different from himself. At one time he ran for Mayor of New York, receiving only a handful of votes for his nativist, anti-Catholic candidacy. He was also a defender of slavery, claiming it was sanctioned by God. He was expounding these views regularly during the 1850's, as the nation was heading to war over the issue. Item 63 is Slavery Sanctioned by the Bible, A Tract for Northern Christians. This is an 1861 pamphlet by John Richter Jones, dedicated "to the clergy of New England," an attempt to convince them to adopt the southern view on slavery just as the southern states were seceding over the issue. This copy is signed and inscribed on the cover by Morse, "With some slight exceptions, an excellent essay. S. F. B. M." Other notes by Morse can be found on the pamphlet's internal pages. Morse also wrote pro-slavery articles, and during the Civil War headed some pro-slavery organizations, attacked Lincoln, and even attacked democracy and the Declaration of Independence for their pro-equality sentiments. $5,000.

 

A free pass to Disneyland is always welcome, but here is a very special one. It was actually signed by Walt Disney himself. It was issued in 1957, just two years after the famed theme park opened. It was made out to Mr. Robert Cobb, a California restaurateur, owner of the Brown Derby restaurants in Hollywood and Los Angeles. The Hollywood Brown Derby was a place where movie stars and other important people would meet and one imagines Disney must have been a patron, leading to this free pass. The Brown Derby restaurants in California are all gone now, but a replica now serves the public in Disney World in Florida. Item 17. $17,500.

 

Here is an ironic letter from President Harry Truman written from the White House in 1949. The recipient was Julius Ochs Adler, general manager of the New York Times. It is sort of an apology for some terse comments Truman had written him earlier concerning an editorial. It was not so much that he was taking back those comments, but rather the way he expressed them. The reason was that the Times had just published a complementary article about his daughter, Margaret, who was beginning her singing career. "Today I am expressing my thanks and appreciation for the special article in the Times Sunday Magazine about Margaret," writes Truman. "Hope you'll forget both the complaint and the reply to your letter." The irony is that the following year, after Washington Post critic Paul Hume said of Miss Truman's performance in a concert that she "cannot sing very well," Truman whipped off a scathing letter to Hume. Truman then wrote that he hoped to meet Hume some time, after which "you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!" Margaret Truman's musical career lasted only a few more years, but she went on to host a radio show, appear occasionally on television, and later achieved recognition as a writer, both for biographies of her father and mother, and for a series of murder mysteries set in Washington. Item 90. $7,500.

 

Stuart Lutz Historic Documents may be reached at 877-428-9362 (or 862-252-6292 for overseas callers), or at HistoryDocs@aol.com. The website is www.HistoryDocs.com.

Rare Book Monthly

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