Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2005 Issue

Americana Including Black Americana From Michael Brown Rare Books

Printed and Manuscript Americana from Michael Brown.


By Michael Stillman

We have received the 39th catalogue from Americana specialist Michael Brown Rare Books. First an aside. This is not the Michael Brown of FEMA fame. This is the bookselling Michael Brown, and he does his job quite competently. The title of catalogue 39 is Printed and Manuscript Americana including Black Americana. That emphasis reflects the fact that almost 100 of the 231 items pertain to African Americans, primarily the slavery-abolition debate which raged from 1830-1860. Many others pertain to the Civil War itself. And then there are the manuscripts. The catalogue contains a fascinating group of diaries and letters from ordinary people, generally living in the countryside when America was mostly a land of rural farmers. They provide an outstanding look at what life was like for most citizens in the 19th century.

It is hard to imagine how, just a century and a half ago, most Americans either supported, or at least were tolerant of, the institution of slavery. How could they not see the terrible injustice? Perhaps the answer lies in what they were taught from an early age. They were trained to accept it. Some anti-slavery forces understood this problem, and so they responded with a child's book to reach youngsters at an early age. From 1847, the book is, The Anti-Slavery Alphabet. "A" is not for "apple" in this primer. The message is much deeper. Here is how it starts:
A is an Abolitionist
A man who wants to free
The wretched slave - and give to all
An equal liberty.

B is a Brother with a skin
Of somewhat darker hue
But in our Heavenly Father's sight
He is as dear as you.
The Anti-Slavery Alphabet is catalogue item 5 and is priced at $500.

Not all northerners were so inclined. In the days before the outbreak of the Civil War, a number of "Great Union Meetings" were held. While the use of the term "union" might make one think it represented pro-northern sentiments, in the days prior to the Civil War, in the North, this often implied support of slavery. The idea was that supporting slavery would hold the Union together by stopping the South from seceding. Item 45 is the Official Report of the Great Union Meeting, Held at the Academy of Music, in the City of New York, December 19th, 1859. New York was one of the more reluctant partners in the Civil War, a source of southern sympathy in the heart of the North. Item 45. $150.

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    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
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