David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their Catalogue 189 of Rare Americana. Lesser's catalogues focus on 18th and 19th century Americana, primarily pamphlets, broadsides, documents, manuscripts, prints, and ephemeral material, rather than full-length books. Being quicker and easier to print than complete books, their accounts of the day tend to be more contemporary to the time they occurred. This also reduces the amount of later thinking and revising of what is said, providing a better look at the thinking at the time. Here are a few selections from this new catalogue.
We begin with a look at the antebellum South that is considered one of the more accurate descriptions. Emily Burke was a teacher who came to work at The Female Asylum for Orphans in Georgia. She comes as an outsider, being a northerner from New Hampshire. However, she becomes very fond of the people and society in which she lives. Her book is a series of letters, covering topics such as “pursuits of the people; a colored woman’s head-dress; a southern planter’s house; house furnishings; buildings connected with a southern plantation; negro dance; a southern cook; pastimes of slaves; training of children; schools; a southern kitchen; a barbeque; the sand-hillers; marriages; funerals; camp meetings; a quilting party, etc.” according to Eberstadt. She says she was never treated with anything less than generosity by the people, whom she very much likes, though she does see the hard life for poor whites and does not at all approve of slavery. She also finds much of Georgia to be rough frontier. She writes, “While I regret the oppression that exists at the South, I love her still.” At the end of her time in Georgia, she writes, “if I did not hold in grateful remembrance a place where I have received so many favors, my conscience must plead guilty for the sin of ingratitude, for I never received any other treatment while in the Southern country, but that of the utmost politeness and kindness. It is with mingled emotions of pleasure and pain that I think of leaving a place that has become so dear to me.” The title of her book, published in 1850, is Reminiscences of Georgia. Item 16. Priced at $1,000.
It's unlikely Ms. Burke imagined the “oppression” of which she spoke would lead to a civil war, but it did and the South did not fare so well. That resulted in this mocking death certificate for the Confederacy, Died, Near the South-Side Rail Road, On Sunday, April 9th, 1865 the Southern Confederacy, Age Four Years. Conceived in Sin, Born in Iniquity, Nurtured by Tyranny, Died of a Chronic Attack of Punch. Abraham Lincoln. Attending Physician. U. S. Grant. Undertaker. Jeff Davis, Chief Mourner. It contains a poem epitaph, “Gentle stranger, drop a tear, / The C.S.A. lies buried here: / In youth it lived and prosper'd well, / But like Lucifer it fell: / Its body here, its soul in – well / E'en if I knew, I wouldn't tell.” Item 25. $1,500.
This next item commemorates another death, but this was a real one. It was the death of an American President in office, and while Americans still struggle with the death of Lincoln, it's safe to say most have gotten over this one. It is a Nathaniel Currier hand-colored lithograph of the Death of Harrison, April 4 A.D. 1841. William Henry Harrison was the President who stood out in the rain, resulting in the dubious distinction of being the first American President to die in office, only a month after he was inaugurated. It shows Harrison lying on his death bed, his niece crying, his morose nephew looks on. Others present included Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Secretary of the Treasury Thomas Ewing, a physician, a reverend, and in the doorway, Postmaster General Francis Granger. It includes a quote, “I wish you to understand the true principles of our government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.” Wise words worth repeating today. Item 34. $250.
Do you think politics are unusually rough today? Here is a broadside headed O. K. Oll for Kleveland (this was one of the first appearances of the expression “O.K.”). It supported Connecticut Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chauncy Cleveland, but the writer saved his greatest vitriol for Whig Presidential candidate Henry Clay. He wrote that Clay was “a mass of moral pollution,” continuing by calling him “The gambler, the duelist, the murderer of Cilley, the profane man, the Sabbath-breaker, the licentious man, the man who sold himself to Adams to be made Secretary of State... He stinks and shines like a rotten mackerel by moonlight.” That last insult was original. Item 31. $3,500.
Do you like cows? Everyone likes cows. Tom Phillips especially, as item 102 is his The Sketches of Tom Phillips. With Forward by Don Ornduff, Former Editor of the American Hereford Journal. Obviously, Mr. Ornduff liked cows too. Offered is copy number 49 of 250, signed by both Phillips and Ornduff. It was published in 1971. It was bound in Hereford calf hide. There is an original cow drawing added. Mr. Phillips looks to have been a very good bovine artist. Item 102. $125.