The Latest Acquisitions by James Cummins Bookseller
By Michael Stillman
James Cummins Bookseller has just issued his Catalogue 98, a collection of new acquisitions. "New acquisitions" are difficult to describe beyond saying they were recently acquired. They do not conform to any theme or field of collecting. They just are what they are. In this case, they are a varied but highly collectible group of books, manuscripts, and photographs, material of the first order. Whatever you collect, you will enjoy this catalogue. Here are a few examples.
There is probably no field with more dedicated followers than railroading. Long ago replaced by the automobile as our primary means of transportation, railroads still retain a hold on our dreams and fantasies. Even today they symbolize freedom and adventure. Item 88 is what is known as the first American book on railroads: Documents tending to prove the superior advantages of Rail-ways and Steam-carriages over Canal Navigation. This was a prescient book by a remarkable mind, John Stevens. Among his other ideas not carried out until after his life was over were an armored navy, a bridge over and a vehicular tunnel under the Hudson River, and an elevated train for New York. This book was published in 1812, and in it Stevens calls for a railway to be built from Lake Erie to Albany, which would open the heartland of America to trade. America was not yet ready. Instead, the Erie Canal was constructed along this route, a great success, but not a particularly long lived one. Stevens' railroads and their ability to access just about any place would soon replace canals as the favored means of transportation. Stevens spells out many details for his trains, including cast-iron wheels, raised rails, and a steam-powered engine. Priced at $7,500.
If Stevens dreamed big, Edison not only imagined, but carried out his dreams. Item 26 is The Phonograph and Phonograph Graphophone, a very early pamphlet on the predecessor of the CD player (I can't believe I'm actually describing a phonograph this way). This was published in 1888 by the North American Phonograph Company, a corporation formed by Jesse Lippincott, which bought Edison's rights to the invention. Edison originally patented his phonograph in 1878, but quickly became distracted by other projects, like inventing the electric light. This pamphlet extols the virtues of the phonograph, noting, "How interesting it will be to future generations to learn from the phonograph exactly how Rubinstein played a composition on the piano." This piece is accompanied by an 1889 announcement offering shares in the company. $2,500.
Speaking of shares in a company, how about 100 shares in the original Standard Oil? What might that be worth today? In 1882, John D. Rockefeller merged all of his oil properties in the Standard Oil Trust. It would not only become the biggest energy conglomerate ever amassed, but its absolute domination and control of the market would be the inspiration for various trust-busting measures later adopted. First the properties would be divided among several subsidiaries, and finally, the Standard Oil Trust was dissolved after a 1911 Supreme Court ruling against it. Item 80 is a certificate for 100 shares of Standard Oil, dated 1883, and issued to Wallace C. Andrews, one of its founders. It is signed by Rockefeller and other Standard Oil founders Henry Flagler and J.A. Bostwick. The certificate is priced at $3,000, but would be worth countless millions if you could cash it in for its current value.