Great Literature from Whitmore Rare Books

- by Michael Stillman


Great Literature from Whitmore Rare Books

Whitmore Rare Books has released their Catalogue 23. While the catalogue is untitled, they specialize in important literary works. The vast majority are written by names you know, and they are usually first or other important editions. There are no obscurities here, though some may be rare. These are a few examples.


Lydia Maria Child was a writer and poet who focused on topics of human rights well before they had many followers. She fought for women's rights, against white supremacy, and for Native American rights. She began writing on these topics in the 1820s. Here is one such book, published in 1833: An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans called Africans. I don't believe many people were calling black slaves African Americans then, but she considered them equal Americans, of African descent, and in effect used that term. Her topics outraged many, but her passion and writing skills earned her wide respect as well. She was ahead of her time. Here, she takes on the horrors of the slave ships and the violence the slaves endured after arrival. She also raises a comparison with women, both literally or effectively owned by White men at the time. While the South was much of her target, she does not leave the North off the hook. She argued against systematic racism, calling for an end to segregation in schools and public venues, advocating for equal access to education and employment, and against miscegenation laws. Oddly, the work of hers everyone knows today is a light Thanksgiving poem, later put to a melody, now commonly known as “Over the River and Through the Wood.” Coming soon are programmable self-driving cars that will be the 21st century equivalent of a horse that knows the way to carry the sleigh. Item 13. Priced at $4,500.


The women's rights, at least voting rights issue would come to the forefront of public discussion and debate by the second half of the 19th century. Item 1 is History of Woman Suffrage, in six volumes, dated 1881, 1882, 1887, 1902, and 1922. The writers were Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Gage and Ida Husted Harper. It contains over 5,000 pages spanning the history of the suffrage movement. Anthony believed it was important for women to tell that history themselves, not leaving it to men to tell it through their eyes. She also wanted to provide guidance for leading the movement forward as five of the volumes preceded the passage of the 19th Amendment. This is a presentation copy signed by Susan Anthony to Marilla M. Ricker. Ricker was the first woman lawyer in New Hampshire, the first to run for Governor of that state and to apply for an ambassadorship (she knew she would obtain neither but wanted to make the point that women were equally qualified). In 1870, she first attempted to vote, and repeatedly submitted her ballot after that, knowing they too would be denied. Anthony inscribed the fifth volume as, unfortunately, she was not around to see passage of the 19th Amendment and the publication of the final volume. $28,500.


Do you want to know what the future holds? It's all right here in this book, at least all the calamities are. Item 47 is the first edition in English of The True Prophecies or Prognostications of Michael Nostradamus. All the untrue ones are here too. Whitmore notes that “most of the predictions Nostradamus composed during his life dealt with disasters such as plagues, earthquakes, wars, floods, invasions, murders, droughts, and battles.” Nostradamus must have had to work overtime in prognosticating what is happening in the world today. The problem is, of course, that no one seems to be able to interpret his predictions before the event happens, only in hindsight after the fact. What use is that? Nevertheless, he still has many followers today who believe they can foresee the future from his writings, if they can just understand the meaning. This first edition in English was published in 1672. That was over a century after they were originally published. $18,000.


If you would like to go on a trip, who could be a better guide than Lemuel Gulliver? He will take you to some amazing places. Item 65 is Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver. First a Surgeon and Then a Captain of Several Ships. Gulliver was neither. He didn't even exist. The author of this fantasy of giants and Lilliputians was Jonathan Swift. His detail and descriptions make these strange worlds seem almost real, though few could mistake this book for reality. It was a satire on the travel accounts of the day, this being the age of exploration. However, Swift had another purpose, lost to time. It was satire on British politics, but few other than scholars understand his points and the context today. It doesn't matter. It's appeal is that of fantasy, not of reality, and that is what made the book such a success even in its own day, and for centuries thereafter, not the obscure political references. Offered is a first edition, published in 1726. $98,000.


This is for those who collect fine and private presses. This one is the granddaddy, from one of the most important founders of the Arts and Crafts movement. That is, of course, William Morris, and his press was the Kelmscott Press. Morris was one of the artists and artisans who were upset with poor quality of workmanship. When it came to printing, the large presses of the day could crank out volume, but Morris did not like what he saw. He spurred a return to hand printing. It meant smaller quantities but higher quality. Private presses have proliferated in the years after Morris died, each having a relatively small but devoted following. These books obviously are more expensive, some decidedly so, and the Kelmscott books top the list, but this one is relatively affordable compared to some others. It is only the second one to come off of Morris' press, the first to use two colors. The title is Poems by the Way, and not only was it printed by Morris, he wrote the poems. It was his final volume of poetry. Item 45. $3,850.


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