Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - August - 2021 Issue

Early Americana from David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books

David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books recently published their Catalogue 182 of Rare Americana. Lesser's catalogues focus on Americana from the 18th and 19th centuries, generally pamphlets, documents, and other less-than full book-length material. We note a particularly high number of items related to America's original sin, slavery. It rose from being a generally accepted, if not beloved, necessity at the time of independence to an institution abhorred by many, beloved by others, with little middle ground. No wonder it tore the nation apart. Here are a few selections from this latest Lesser catalogue.


The Compromise of 1850 probably unleashed the forces that made the Civil War inevitable, but it was during the previous two decades that docile acceptance of slavery in the U.S. turned to hostility in the North. It was too egregious a violation of human rights, and a violation of American ideals of freedom, to be tolerable any longer. Agitation grew. One such example is The New England Anti-slavery Almanac for 1841. It encourages establishing free schools for Black children, provides hints for anti-slavery debaters, provides an “Ecclesiastical Roll of Infamy” of northern Methodist clergy who voted for a resolution prohibiting “colored persons to give testimony against white persons,” and a “Congressional Roll of Infamy” for Northern Congressmen who voted for the Gag Rule, which prohibited Congress from accepting petitions concerning slavery. As for the still upcoming presidential election of 1840, it says “President Van Buren and General Harrison have both publicly taken the side of the oppressor against the oppressed and the God of the oppressed. Both of them glory in it.” Van Buren, in his post-presidential years, would become vehemently anti-slavery, running as the Free Soil presidential candidate in 1848, but unfortunately, during his presidential years, he showed little interest. One of the most noteworthy features of this almanac is that it provides substantial content on the Amistad incident, including portraits of Cinque and others. Item 84. Priced at $750.


Even free African Americans weren't always quite so free in antebellum America. Item 55 comes from the border state of Missouri in 1855. Slavery was legal in Missouri, but that state remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. Its citizens were among the most divided in the country. It is a printed bond, securing the rights of Elizabeth Howard, a “free colored” woman, to reside in Missouri. For free Blacks, they had to have respectable White citizens post bond for them to live freely in the state. For a $100 bond, she was permitted to reside in Missouri, so long as she “shall be of good behavior.” No such requirement was imposed on Whites, as Jesse James could attest. Ms. Howard's guarantors were Dr. Charles Sebastian Hertich, a prominent physician, and Lt. Col. Joseph Felix St. James, a lawyer and mayor of St. Genevieve. The 1860 census shows Elizabeth Howard as a free Black woman with four children living in St. Genevieve County. $1,500.


Next we have an account of an army officer with a checkered history: Defence of Major Gen. Pillow before the Court of Inquiry at Frederick, Maryland, Against Charges Preferred Against Him by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott (1848). Scott was commanding American forces during the Mexican War. Pillow, a vain sort, took more than his due credit in a battle at the expense of Gen. Scott. Scott, also a vain sort, was not pleased. Pillow was court-martialed. Fortunately for him, he was a Democrat and former law partner of President Polk, and Polk despised the Whig Scott. Charges were first reduced and then dismissed, though the court of inquiry found that Pillow had “appropriated to himself more than a just share” of the credit. Pillow was the author of this self-defense. Now for the rest of the story – Pillow became a secessionist and a general in the Confederate army. His reputation eroded after some battle mistakes and retreats. His final battlefield command was removed after Pillow was found, when ordered to lead his troops forward, hiding behind a tree. He spent the remainder of the war at a desk job. Item 94. $350.


This is certainly a novel defense against a charge of murder. Men, don't try this. Item 35 is the Official Report of the Trial of Laura D. Fair for the Murder of Alex P. Crittenden... published in 1871. Mrs. Fair had been carrying on with married San Francisco lawyer Alex Crittenden. She wished him to divorce his wife and become Mrs. Fair's fifth husband. He obviously chose not to do so, nor to acknowledge their child. On a ferry he was taking to see his wife, Mrs. Fair shot him. She was convicted and sentenced to death, but the verdict was overturned on appeal due to trial errors. Fair's attorneys then argued insanity. As they explained, her actions were the result of female hysteria caused by “scanty and retarded menstruation, a chronic disease of the womb.” Medical witnesses testified that this was a common condition among women and therefore she had followed an irresistible impulse to kill. This is a case where law and medicine intersected, and both were full of it. $175.


Perhaps the abolitionists had it all wrong. Victoria Clayton certainly thought so. Her book is entitled White and Black under the Old Regime. By Victoria V. Clayton (Widow of the Late Henry D. Clayton, Major General, C.S.A., Judge of the Circuit Court of Alabama, President of the University of Alabama). This was published in 1899, and the “Old Regime” to which she refers is the antebellum South. The Claytons went to Kansas in 1855 to oppose John Brown and the abolitionists, returning home in time for Mr. Clayton to serve the Confederate cause. According to Mrs. Clayton, things were wonderful in the Old South, although she does speak of problems maintaining a normal home life in Alabama and controlling servants. “Servants” was often a euphemism for slaves in the South. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clayton maintained that life was wonderful for everyone before the war, Blacks included. She explains, “Every slave family possessed a garden, truck patch, chicken house and a lot of hens, and, from those sources, always had something nice to present to us, their young 'misses.'” She was undoubtedly jealous she was one of those young misses, and not a slave herself. She said they “cherished” those presents. And then Lincoln went and ruined it all, for Blacks and Whites alike. Item 20. $275.


David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books may be reached at 203-389-8111 or dmlesser@lesserbooks.com. Their website is www.lesserbooks.com.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Important Modern Literature from the Library of an American Filmmaker
    8 December 2023
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Kerouac, Jack. Typescript scroll of The Dharma Bums. Typed by Kerouac in Orlando, Florida, 1957, published by Viking in 1958. 300,000 - 500,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Hemingway, Ernest. The autograph manuscript of "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." [Key West, finished April 1936]. 300,000 - 500,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Miller, Henry. Typescript of The Last Book, a working title for Tropic of Cancer, written circa 1931–1932. 100,000 - 150,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Ruscha, Ed. Twentysix Gasoline Stations, with a lengthy inscription to Joe Goode. 40,000 - 60,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Hemingway, Ernest. in our time, first edition of Hemingway’s second book. 30,000 - 50,000 USD
  • Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: Samuel Augustus Mitchell, A New Map of Texas, Oregon and California with the Regions Adjoining, Philadelphia, 1846. $3,500 to $5,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: 17th–19th-century case maps of various locations. $1,500 to $2,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Andreas Cellarius, Haemisphaerium Stellatum Boreale Cum Subiecto Haemisphaerio Terrestri, celestial chart, Amsterdam, 1708. $2,500 to $3,500.
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: Vincenzo Coronelli, Set of engraved gores for Coronelli’s monumental 42-inch terrestrial globe, Venice, circa 1688–97. $18,000 to $22,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, group of four navigational charts, Antwerp, 1580s. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Thomas Bros, Block Book of Berkeley, Oakland, 1920s. $800 to $1,200.
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Nieuhoff & John Ogilby, An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, map of China, plan of Canton, London, 1673. $1,200 to $1,800.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Frederick Sander, Reichenbachia, St. Albans, 1888-1894. $5,000 to $7,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Two early illustrated works on horsemanship and breeding, Nuremberg, early 18th century. $700 to $800.
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Gould, A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans. Supplement to the First Edition, London, 1834; 1855. $40,000 to $60,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, London, 1808–14. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Oakley Hoopes Bailey, Hackensack, New Jersey, Boston, 1896. $800 to $1,200.
    Valuable Books and Manuscripts
    London auction
    13 December
    Find out more
    Christie’s, Explore now
    TREW, Christoph Jacob (1695–1769). Plantae Selectae quarum imagines ad exemplaria naturalia Londini in hortus curiosorum. [Nuremberg: 1750–1773]. £30,000–40,000
    Christie’s, Explore now
    VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623–88). Liber Organicus Astronomiae Europaeae apud Sinas restituate. [Beijing: Board of Astronomy, 1674]. £250,000–350,000
    Christie’s, Explore now
    PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF ALICE & NIKOLAUS HARNONCOURT. Master of Jean Rolin (active 1445–65). Book of Hours, use of Paris, in Latin and French, [Paris, c.1450–1460]. £120,000–180,000
    Christie’s, Explore now
    A SILVER MICROSCOPE. Probably by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), c.1700. £150,000–250,000
    Christie’s, Explore now
    C.1311. £100,000–150,000
  • Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Roberts (David) & Croly (George). The Holy Land, Syria, Idumae, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia. Lond. 1842 - 1843 [-49]. First Edn. €10,000 to €15,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Incunabula: O'Fihily (Maurice). Duns Scotus Joannes: O'Fihely, Maurice Abp… Venice, 20th November 1497. €8,000 to €12,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: An important file of documents with provenance to G.A. Newsom, manager of the Jacob’s Factory in Dublin, occupied by insurgents during Easter Week 1916. €6,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: WILDE (Oscar), 1854-1900, playwright, aesthete and wit. A lock of Wilde’s Hair, presented by his son to the distinguished Irish actor Mícheál MacLiammóir. €6,000 to €8,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Heaney (Seamus). Bog Poems, London, 1975. Special Limited Edition, No. 33 of 150 Copies, Signed by Author. Illus. by Barrie Cooke. €4,000 to €6,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Binding: Burke, Thomas O.P. (de Burgo). Hibernia Dominicana, Sive Historia Provinciae Hiberniae Ordinis Praedicatorum, ... 1762. First Edition. €4,000 to €6,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: COLLINS, Michael. An important TL, 29 July 1922, addressed to GOVERNMENT on ‘suggested Proclamation warning all concerned that troops have orders to shoot prisoners found sniping, ambushing etc.’. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Scott Fitzgerald (F.) The Great Gatsby, New York (Charles Scribner's Sons) 1925, First Edn. €2,000 to €3,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Yeats (W.B.) The Poems of W.B. Yeats, 2 vols. Lond. (MacMillan & Co.) 1949. Limited Edition, No. 46 of 375 Copies Only, Signed by W.B. Yeats. €1,500 to €2,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Miller (William) Publisher. The Costume of the Russian Empire, Description in English and French, Lg. folio London (S. Gosnell) 1803. First Edn. €1,000 to €1,500.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Miller (William) Publisher. The Costume of Turkey, Illustrated by a Series of Engravings. Lg. folio Lond.(T. Bensley) 1802. First Edn. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Mason (Geo. Henry). The Costume of China, Illustrated with Sixty Engravings. Lg. folio London (for W. Miller) 1800. First Edn. €1,400 to €1,800
  • Sotheby’s
    Fine Books and Manuscripts
    8 December 2023
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: [Austen, Jane] — Isaac D'Israeli. Jane Austen's copy of Curiosities of Literature. 100,000 - 150,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: [Austen, Jane]. A handsome first edition in boards of the author's debut novel. 70,000 - 100,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Brontë, Charlotte. "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me..." 100,000 - 150,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Eliot, George. The author's magnum opus. 25,000 - 35,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Whitman, Walt. Manuscript written upon the Death of Lincoln, 1865. 60,000 - 80,000 USD

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