Antiquarian Books and Ephemera from Samuel Gedge Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
Samuel Gedge Ltd. Rare Books has issued Catalogue VI, a most interesting collection of antiquarian books and other items. Among the "other items" are various certificates such as ships' licenses, school notes, passports, maps, broadsides, architectural plans, account books, even a wallet. This is a fine collection of very old material from the British bookseller that will interest anyone fascinated with the distant past. We will take a look inside.
Item 73 is a most significant manuscript, an intelligence report on Spain and its military in 1582 by English spy William Lytlestone. Lytlestone gathered his information in Spain, translated it from Spanish to English, and presented it to English authorities. This is a manuscript copy of that report, evidently prepared to pass around to others responsible for England's defense. Relations then between the British and Spanish were tense, and by 1585 the two would be engaged in a long-running undeclared war. The most notable event of that dispute would be the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, although the English privateer Sir Francis Drake had set the table a year earlier with an attack that destroyed a large number of Spanish ships. This would have been an important document for the English as they prepared themselves to face off against the Spanish during this era. Priced at £12,500 (British pounds, or approximately $20,537 U.S. Dollars).
Item 35 is over 200 years old, but the circumstances are distressingly similar to some of those being experienced today. It is the Minutes of a meeting of the defenders...of Douglas, Heron, and Company; against the directors... published in 1780. The collapse of Douglas, Heron was one of the greatest European bank failures in history, reminiscent of what we are seeing today, but with no TARP funds to bail out the bankers. Douglas, Heron was a bank formed in Scotland in 1769 that quickly became too free with its credit and too lax with its collateral. The bank issued too many notes it could not back, and in 1773, the house of cards collapsed. The loss was terrible for the shareholder-partners, who not only lost their investments, but were personally on the hook for its outstanding debts. Many were forced to sell their estates or even ended up in debtors' prison. £950 (US $1,561).
Here is a license to steal, quite literally. Item 42 is a single sheet with the heading of King George III dated May 23, 1806. It authorizes Captain Francis May of the Unity "to set forth in a warlike manner the said ship Unity...and therewith by force of arms to apprehend seize and take the ships vessels and goods belonging to the King of Prussia or any persons inhabiting within..." In other words, this is a pirate's license. Prussia had been forced by France to assist in closing European ports to the British, Napoleon's attempt to so weaken England as to prevent her from withstanding his attempts to take over Europe. France was the unstated but real enemy at the time. £1,250 (US $2,056).