Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2003 Issue

American Historical Fiction Chart

Scribner5

Scribner Catalogue #115 is a powerful tool for collectors.


By Bruce McKinney

Scribner’s Catalogue #115: The Inside Story

For those of you who have just read American Historical Novels: Scribner’s Catalogue 115 Revisited this is the contents of that catalogue in a form that you can use to search the internet. For the searches I ran I used www.abe.com but www.bookfinder.com and www.addall.com will look at ABE and other sites. You may prefer them. There are in fact many listing sites.

In this catalogue there are 228 items for sale. Scribner’s, the great New York booksellers of mostly the first half of the 20th century, prepared this catalogue for release in 1938. This was a difficult time. The depression continued and war in Europe loomed and yet the firm needed to make sales. They developed this catalogue as a way to entice purchases of books that weren’t terribly expensive. They were almost, but not quite, practical. Yes you could read them BUT you needed to treat them carefully for this type of material is very condition sensitive. Perfect copies become imperfect copies unless treated carefully. That said they issued a survey of American Historical Fiction that even today, sixty-five years later, seems accurate and as timely as it was then.

Truth-be-told the years have not been kind to their judgments – at least with respect to price. You could have bought the entire catalogue in 1938 for $6,725. That amount of money, simply adjusted for ever-present inflation, has turned into $81,066.67 today. And of course, almost everyone does better than just match inflation. During November I purchased about one quarter of all the titles, in this catalogue, on the net. These books cost $904 in the original catalogue and $3,114 recently. Had the books I bought kept pace with inflation they would have cost $10,900. I tried to buy the best copy for the money but freely admit the books I bought are not equal in condition to those Scribner was selling. In some cases the recent copies are even better but this is rare. On the other hand time takes a toll and quality only declines.

As the books I bought arrive I am posting their images to the Collector’s Database and you can link to it both here and on page two of the American Historical Novels feature. What is included will continue to change as the month continues.

This is fascinating material. The books are highly readable in their telling of historical stories but they also tell us much about how our tastes and collecting preferences have changed. Doesn’t it seem inevitable that the day of such books will come again? They are very under-appreciated and deserve a better place in the world of book collecting. Here’s hoping.

For those who want to price these books on the web I recently paid on average 28% of the inflation adjusted values for the copies I bought. In most cases I couldn’t buy the “big books.” They have held up much better and arguably they’ll continue to do better. I was doing this on a budget. Those of you with a few bucks to spend will find this material really fascinating.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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