Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2003 Issue

"Within These Walls" Tracking Down The History Of Your House

Mikereview1

“Within These Walls” Exhibition on Smithsonian website. Courtesy of Smithsonian


By Michael Stillman

There is most likely a piece of American history right under your nose at this very moment. It may be old; it may be new. It may be famous, but probably isn’t. It undoubtedly appears in several written works, but not as a main character. But it could be. In fact, the Smithsonian, the premier repository for all things American, thinks it should be the lead character in a book. What’s more, they want to help you write that book.

The character we’re talking about, of course, is your house. It may have a long history behind it, or it may not, but that’s all right. People are already writing about George W. Bush’s presidency. It’s never too soon to start keeping a record, because your house is one small slice of American history, and if your written work never achieves mass appeal, it will always be massively appealing to those people who live in or are familiar with it.

The online exhibition we are looking at is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History exhibit entitled “Within These Walls.” The Smithsonian has taken a 250-year-old house from Ipswich, Massachusetts, and looked at the lives of five of the families who lived there in the roughly 200 years it was inhabited. Actually, they’ve done a lot more. They’ve taken down the house and reassembled it in their museum in Washington. You aren’t expected to do anything quite so dramatic. You are permitted to tell the story of your house while leaving it physically in place.

The Ipswich house featured in this exhibit certainly has an interesting history. Abraham Choate, the builder and first owner, was a fairly wealthy individual in the 1760’s. In time, the area became a mill district, and the owners were no longer so well-off. A century later, the home had been divided into two apartments and housed recent immigrants struggling to get by. And while the house would never regain the prestige it gave the Choates, there were some advantages that accrued only to later residents. As the exhibit points out, it wasn’t until the 1940s that Roy Scott, one of the later residents, installed the home’s first indoor toilet.

If you visit this online exhibition, you’ll be able to learn a little about these five families and their times. If you visit the Smithsonian, you’ll even be able to see the house. However, we want to focus on the do-it-yourself part of the exhibit. Here it tells you how to learn more about your home (presuming it’s an older one).

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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