Rare Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
By Michael Stillman
Just released is David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books' latest catalogue of Rare Americana, number 88. This is a typical Lesser collection of printed Americana, overwhelmingly from the 18th and 19th centuries. As you read through the items, you can see the tensions arising between the colonists and British through the first three-quarters of the 18th century. Then, through the first sixty years of the next century, you see the tensions again rising, this time between North and South, abolitionists and slaveholders. Of course, there are many other side issues along the way, political, theological, legal, and such that were the subject of numerous pamphlets and books. Additionally, this catalogue contains a healthy selection of almanacs and other city guides, proposals for railroads, and even the obligatory Indian captivity. Here are some of what you will find in number 88.
Item 108 is a combination of high principles and bad proofreading, A Speech Intenedd [sic] to have been Spoken in the House of Lords, on a Bill for Altering the Charter of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay. Written by the Reverend Mr. Jonathan Shipley. This work deplored Britain's measures against the colony after the Boston Tea Party. He notes that it is always an "arduous task" to govern distant provinces, and points out that, "Arbitrary taxation is plunder authorized by law." Priced at $875.
Item 24 is an anonymous, outspoken attack on British practices of recruiting soldiers in the late 18th century. This circa 1795 London printing of Reflections on the Pernicious Custom of Recruiting by Crimps...came out at the time the former colonial power was impressing American seamen into service. The writer says that even after witnessing the arrival of a slave ship, "I do not think the sight more shocking, than to behold a young Englishman delivered by a Crimp..." A "crimp" is someone who traps or tricks another into military service. The author also attacks the practice "...whereby we take such an undue advantage of the ignorance of lower ranks; and whereby we ungenerously decoy them into the fatigues and dangers of war for the ease of their betters, who never dream of fighting their own battles." Do leaders still send the poor to fight battles they would not fight themselves today? Couldn't be. This was over 200 years ago. $500.
In 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued, The Veto. Message from the President of the United States, Returning the Bank Bill... Jackson loathed government monopolies, particularly in banking, believing they would always work against the average citizen. He states, "Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits; but have besought us to make them richer by acts of Congress." One can only imagine what Jackson would think of Congress today! $250.
Item 18 recounts an unusual event in the annals of slavery. It is A Report on the Trial of Arthur Hodge...at the Island of Tortola...for the Murder of his Negro Man Slave Named Prosper (Tortola is in the British Virgin Islands). Hodge was a particularly brutal slaveholder. Testimony established that he had flogged Prosper for two days, then left him to die of his wounds and starvation. Hodge argued that the slave was his property and he could do as he pleased; that it was no more an offense to kill his slave than to kill his dog. That argument didn't fly. At least in the British West Indies at that early date of 1811, a court was not only willing to convict a slave owner of murder of his slave, but had him hanged as well. $1,500.