Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2003 Issue

Shakers, Maine, and Everything Else A Visit with DeWolfe and Wood

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Scott DeWolfe in the quintessential bookseller’s office.


The Alfred community was one of the many to shut down. It closed its doors in 1931, with its members moving to Sabbath Day Lake, another Shaker community in Maine. Interestingly, Scott DeWolfe points out that it didn’t close for lack of members. Alfred was one of the communities still actively proselytizing in the 1900’s. However, the community experienced two devastating fires which forced the eighteen members to make the move. The legacy of the Alfred society with its active recruitment may help explain why Sabbath Day Lake survived to be the last remaining Shaker community.

In 1965, with the end appearing inevitable, and a fear that people would join for the purpose of taking over the communities’ extensive assets when the last of the older members died, the decision was made to admit no new members. Naturally, that sped the decline. However, the Sabbath Day Lake community has more recently decided to accept new members again. Currently, there are four members in total. They don’t make furniture any more, but they do sell herbs and a few “fancy goods.” They even produce an occasional pamphlet or other printed piece as one of the members is a printer. And with there being many other small communal societies that are able to exist in the country, Scott DeWolfe is not convinced that the Shakers won’t survive. He points out that as early as the 1790’s people were saying they wouldn’t survive much longer. “All bets are off,” he exclaims.

DeWolfe doesn’t believe celibacy is the reason for the community’s near disappearance. They were always celibate, even at their peak. Rather, he attributes the decline to their inability to recruit new members. In the early days, they would frequently have entire families join. And while they were celibate, it wasn’t unusual for children in these families to break away, have children of their own, and then return to the fold. And the Shakers also adopted many orphans. They recognized that many if not most would leave the community when they grew up, but some would stay. Still, the primary aim was to convert adults, and while they were very good at doing this in the tough, agrarian society to which the movement was born, they were not as successful in the modern, industrial world.

Printed and Other Collectible Shaker Items

There are basically two areas of Shaker collecting, Scott DeWolfe explains. One is furniture; the other books, printed material, and other ephemera. The furniture is expensive, very expensive. Furniture generally sells for thousands of dollars. Most other items sell for under $1,000, and often a few hundred or less. It’s an affordable field if you stay away from the furniture.

They estimate there are around 1,000 Shaker imprints. Of course there is also material about the Shakers, not all of it flattering; manuscripts; and various ephemera, from labels to boxes that held Shaker-produced goods, to “fancy goods,” decorative-type items they produced. The rarest and most valuable printed work is A Concise Statement of the Principles of the Only True Church, according to the Gospel of the Present Appearance of Christ by Joseph Meacham. Printed in Bennington, Vermont, in 1790, it is the first printed work of the Shakers. For the first time, it put the Shaker theology into writing. A copy is offered in DeWolfe and Wood’s Shaker Catalog 45 for $30,000. If that’s too pricey for your collection, there are 373 other Shaker-related items available in the catalog.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Shakespeare’s Sonnets, In Two Parts,</i> limited Saint Dunstan edition, Oxford University Press, 1901. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. $18,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>The Man with the Golden Gun,</i> first edition, first state with the dust jacket, London, 1965. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>The Voyage Out,</i> first American edition of the author’s first book, in rare dust jacket, NY, 1920. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gabriel García Márquez, <i>Cien años de soledad,</i> Buenos Aires, 1967. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Mary Mapes Dodge, <i>Along the Way,</i> first edition, author’s copy, annotated in her hand, NY, 1879. $1,800 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> <i>The Dial: A Monthly Magazine for Literature, Philosophy and Religion,</i> first edition, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s copy, Cincinnati, 1860. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gaston Leroux, <i>The Phantom of the Opera,</i> first American edition, first printing, New York, 1911. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Walt Whitman, <i>Leaves of Grass,</i> signed, Camden, 1876. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Faulkner, William. <i>The Sound and the Fury.</i> New York: Jonathan Cape, [1929]. First edition in dust jacket. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Trautz-Bauzonnet bindery. Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Thompson, Kay. <i>Eloise at Christmastime.</i> New York: Random House, [1958]. First edition. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,000 to $3,000
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Taylor, Deems. <i>Walt Disney’s Fantasia.</i> New York: 1940. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,500 to $3,500

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