Literature from the William Reese Company
By Michael Stillman
The William Reese Company takes a short break from its usual focus on Americana to offer a collection of Literature in its 247th catalogue. Offered are almost 800 titles of primarily 20th century works, though there are a few that go back farther. While Reese's Americana catalogues are generally focused on the upper tier of collecting, this one offers works in the field of literature for a wider range of budgets. There aren't many Reese catalogues in which you can find items as low as $20, but in this one you can. Collectors of literature in all price ranges should find something of interest in this collection, which includes "poetry and prose, manuscripts and original art, fine printing, filmscripts and bibliography." There are numerous first editions and works by both famous and not-so-famous authors, but we will select a few of the more unusual for samples from the catalogue.
Any short list for America's greatest writer will certainly include Mark Twain. Item 158 is a biography of the master, My Father Mark Twain by, naturally, his daughter, Clara Clemens. This 1931 biography uses previously unpublished letters and photographs to provide his fans with a behind the scene look at the great writer. The book itself is not rare, but this copy has an interesting association. It comes with a 1952 inscription from Twain's last direct descendant, granddaughter Nina Clemens Gabrilowitsch. Though Twain had four children, he had but one grandchild, and she had no heirs. Miss Clemens (she preferred to use her grandfather's family name) writes to a physician, "Do you think...you could 'exorcise' me of these traits which I'm afraid I inherited?" She was referring to an alcohol problem, far more serious than anything Twain experienced. Despite the fame her grandfather's name brought her (she never met him, being born a few months after Twain's death), and the income she would eventually receive from his trust, Miss Clemens led a tragic life, which came to an end at the age of 55, pills and alcohol by her side. Priced at $125.
He was a man of large ego, sometime violent temperament, and certainly one of America's greatest folk musicians. He was discovered, not on American Idol, but in prison, for attempting to kill a man. This was not the first time Huddie Ledbetter found himself so restrained. Years earlier, he had been imprisoned for successfully killing a man, but with the help of a musical plea to Texas' governor, was granted a release. He would succeed in pulling this off again in 1934 from Louisiana. However, by this time he had some important friends. John and Alan Lomax had been hired by the Library of Congress to record the music of folk America, and had found prisons to be one of their best resources.