Rare and Unusual Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
By Michael Stillman
David Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their latest edition of Rare Americana -- A Catalogue of Significant and Unusual Imprints Relating to America. Lesser regularly issues collections of mostly obscure and unexpected American material from the 18th and 19th centuries. Most often, the items are of pamphlet length or even simple broadsides, although longer tracts can also be found. A David Lesser catalogue is an excellent place to look for what regular people, perhaps a local politician, clergyman, or newspaper editor, was thinking, as well as the thoughts of presidents and statesmen. It provides a window on early America, and is a great resource for those who seek the unusual within the field. Here are some samples.
We have been able to literally watch America's last few wars on our television sets. Before that, we watched them as newsreels in the movie theater, but how were Americans able to visualize the Civil War? Here is the answer. Item 22 is a broadside announcing Grand Historic Mirror of the American War! ...The Only Work of the Kind in Existence, Sketched by Eyewitnesses, and Painted by the Most Eminent Artists... This was a large, traveling mural, with scenes of various events from the war painted upon it. As new battles unfolded, the artists would add additional sections. The showing advertised in this broadside ran from December 29, 1862 until January 1, 1863 at Philadelphia's Concert Hall. Buy a ticket and you could view the mural plus hear "a patriotic and descriptive lecture." This is TV news circa 1863. Priced at $850.
Edmond Charles Genet, or "Citizen Genet," was appointed French Ambassador to the U.S. in 1793. This was the time of the French Revolution, and France also found itself at war with England and Spain. When Genet came to America, he was welcomed as a hero. France had been America's benefactor in its revolution, and Americans were becoming swept up in the excitement of the revolution in France. However, Genet overplayed his cards. He outfitted a couple of privateering ships to be used against the British and Spanish while on American soil, and when his further demands for assistance were not met by Washington, he threatened to go directly to the American public. Unfortunately for Genet, Washington remained first in the hearts of his countrymen, and Genet soon found his credentials revoked. Meanwhile in France, the revolution turned bloodier, and the new French ambassador delivered Genet with notice to return home. Genet feared the guillotine awaited him in France, so he sought asylum from the American leaders he had battled. It was granted and Genet lived out his many remaining days (he died in 1834) on a New York farm (he married New York Governor George Clinton's daughter, and after her death, the daughter of Postmaster General Samuel Osgood). So what did Citizen Genet do in all of those years? Well one thing he did was to write a book. The title is Memorial on the Upward Forces of Fluids... and it was the first book on practical aeronautics published in America. Genet offers plans for a device that made most people laugh in amusement -- a heavier than air flying machine. The book was published in Albany, across the river from Genet's farm, in 1825. By this time, Citizen Genet was an American citizen. Item 48. $2,500.