Literature, Travel & Exploration, Americana from James Cummins Bookseller

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Literature, Travel & Exploration, Americana from James Cummins Bookseller


By Michael Stillman

James Cummins Bookseller has issued a catalogue entitled Literature, Travel & Exploration, Americana. This is something of three catalogues in one, divided into the aforementioned three categories. We will not so attempt to divide this review, but will offer samples from each of the sections.

Item 42 is one of the greatest pieces of historical literature ever written, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon devoted much of his life to this one masterpiece, a six-volume account of Rome as it fell from the dominant power in the West to complete disintegration. Gibbon's detailed research led to his being called the first modern historian. Along with his compilation of facts, Gibbon providing penetrating, if sometimes controversial theories as to why Rome fell into decline. This first edition was published from 1776-1788. Priced at $22,500.

Item 15 is an account by naturalist John Burroughs of a trip with the caption title Our Vacation Days of 1918. It includes 74 mounted silver prints. Burroughs, the conservationist, took an automobile trip from Pittsburgh to the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains with two of America's most notable industrialists and perhaps its greatest inventor. His four companions were Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Harvey Firestone, Jr. Ford, Edison, and Firestone were evidently good friends as they had been photographed together on several occasions. Though the trip occurred in 1918, the album was not put together until at least 1921, as it is dedicated to the memory of Burroughs, who died in 1921. $2,500.

Item 99 is the first English edition of Alexander Esquemeling's (Exquemelin) Bucaniers of America (1684), bound with Basil Ringrose's Bucaniers of America. The Second Volume... (1685). The former is perhaps the best look at the Caribbean pirates of the 17th century. Though containing its share of inaccuracies, exaggerations, and fabrications, it still paints a good portrait of the life of a pirate. Esquemeling trained as a barber and surgeon (in those days, those two trades went together). However, neither trade was as profitable as it is today, so he signed on to be a pirate. From 1666-1678 he plied his new trade, most notably spending five years working for the infamous Henry Morgan. Morgan attacked Spanish shipping and outposts in America with extreme brutality from 1666-1671 before being knighted by the British crown and forced into retirement. $22,500.

Item 136 is a collection of plates with the cover title Hand Colored Views of the Grand Canyon of Arizona. It was created by restaurateur Fred Harvey. Harvey built a series of restaurants and hotels to serve Santa Fe and other railroad travelers. He then set about promoting the American Southwest to tourists as a means to bring in more customers to his establishments. $750.

Sven Heden was a Swedish explorer of Central Asia, a geographer, writer and illustrator. He wrote books on these explorations and many other topics. These were mostly published in Germany, so an interested American, a Mr. Young, ordered a copy of one of his titles in 1904 to be shipped directly to him. When it arrived, Mr. Young was surprised, or perhaps we should say appalled. He was charged $78.85 for shipping and $20 for customs. That was a lot of money in 1904, the equivalent of well over $1,000 today. Young whipped off a complaint to Heden about the outrageous charges. Item 102 is the explorer's response, and it was something less than sympathetic. He writes, "...this is not our fault, it is the fault of the American laws, and we have nothing whatever to do with it. At any rate, I cannot be responsible..." Heden then concludes, "When I get a subscriber I only give the order to the GLA but I have no time to give orders how every book should be sent... I have no time to lose in such nonsense as this correspondence...No sir, my time is too precious..." While Heden evidently had a healthy sense of self-worth, his customer services skills were wanting. $1,250.

James Cummins Bookseller may be reached at 212-688-6441 or cummins@panix.com. Their website is www.jamescumminsbookseller.com.