Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2003 Issue

A Sketch Of the Life and Voyages Of Captain Alvah Dewey

Bk3

A Sketch of the Life and Voyages of Captain Alvah Dewey.


Comprising A Period of Twenty-Six Years
By Silas Judd, esq.
Printed by Isaac Lyon in Chittenango: 1838


Reviewed by Bruce McKinney

On a keyword search in the AED (Americana Exchange Database) for Chittenango, which is neither a hot sauce or a dance, I ran across A Sketch of the Life and Voyages of Captain Alvah Dewey...and did an ABE (Abebooks.com) search, as I often do with books that seem obscure. This one was there and priced at $750. I sent an email inquiring about the condition and price and ended up paying $656 delivered. It’s a good buy.

The book isn’t worth tons of money but the priced records are encouraging. In the AED there are nine records covering the period 1945 to 1988 and priced $65 to $750. The William Reese Company sold a copy in 1992 for $1,500 and there the trail goes cold. There are no auction records in the ABPC (Americana Book Prices Current) going back to 1975. I’d call it uncommon and unappreciated. The copy I bought is quite nice in original boards. I immediately turned it over to Coriander Reisbord to have the binding invisibly firmed up as it was quite tender. One hundred and fifty dollars poorer, I then sat down to read it. And it’s a very good read.

Mr. Dewey, born in New York State in the late 18th century, declared for the open seas while quite young. On page 6 he stopped at Poughkeepsie thereby confirming it as part of my Hudson River Valley collection and then moved on to connect to Connecticut, New York City, Baltimore, the Caribbean, Texas and France. The book was definitely written by a book dealer with an eye to future appreciation. It’s published in a place that was, at the time, smaller than a mouse’s sneeze and is today close by Cazenovia Junior College, where crazed young men from nearby men’s colleges sought the company of young women in the 1960’s (as I can personally attest). For imprint specialists it is a rarity.

The book itself doesn’t spend much time discussing Mr. Dewey in the first person. He does this and does that but motivation and feelings are not a significant portion of this 113 page epistle. It is strong on New York place names such as Albany, Hudson and Utica, makes references to New York City and Baltimore and then gets the man out on the ocean where he switches boats every six pages rising in life to Captain before perhaps falling victim to the Peter Principle and returning to First Mate.

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