As each component of the Martin Library is catalogued and its individual treasures revealed, the remarkable vision of Bradley Martin becomes more apparent. The Americana collection is no exception. It was the smallest section in terms of the number of items, but in importance it easily stands with the others. Of course this would be true even if it contained only its two most important items, George Washington’s own copy of The Federalist and one of the twenty-three surviving copies of the first printing of the Declaration of Independence.
Beyond these, the Library’s works of printed Americana, complemented by a few carefully chosen manuscript items, mark other epochal periods in the life of the nation, from the discovery and exploration in Richard Hakluyt’s Voiages to Frederick Jackson Turner’s penetrating study of her expansion, The Significance of the Frontier in American History. The Colonial period is represented by important works of Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, and Benjamin Franklin; the Revolutionary War is marked not only by the Declaration of Independence but also by the Treaty of Paris that concluded the peace between the United States and Great Britain; the expanding frontier and its native inhabitants are brilliantly delineated in the works of Karl Bodmer and George Catlin.
Of the forty-three printed books presented here, seventeen are found in the Grolier Club’s One Hundred Influential American Books, and two, the incomparable Federalist and the Turner, were the copies exhibited at the Club in 1947. Another measure of the collection’s stature is its parallel with the holdings of Thomas W. Streeter, surely the most celebrated collector in the field. Twenty-eight of the works offered were also part of the extraordinary sale of the Streeter collection in the late 1960s.
The Martin Library was assembled over a forty-year period, and for much of that time Bradley and I were in almost daily communication about the books he had bought and those he was considering. Other bookmen sometimes joined our discussion, most frequently Gordon Ray, who was part of a regular Thursday threesome at Gino’s restaurant on Lexington Avenue. As his reputation grew, Bradley received virtually every catalogue published. He gave each serious consideration, but it was impossible to “sell” him anything. He determined the course of his collection, filling in gaps or branching out only with copies that met his exacting standards….
The Historical Auction Series No.2 The H. Bradley Martin Sale 1989-1990
In that spirit, here’s a revealing quote by David Kirschenbaum, printed in the Introduction to the Americana part of the Martin catalogue [Sale 5972/The Martin Library, Part VII: Americana/The Library of H. Bradley Martin/Highly Important Printed and Manuscript Americana (Wednesday, January 31, 1990)]: