Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2006 Issue

Some Amazing Historic Documents from Bruce N. Johnson

Johnson19

Historic Documents from Bruce N. Johnson.


By Michael Stillman

Bruce N. Johnson, of upstate Liverpool, New York, has issued his first catalogue of Historic Documents (catalogue number 19 overall). This one is filled with manuscript and ephemeral items, and they are truly historic, fascinating, and very collectible. There are numerous broadsides, maps, and photographs, although we will specifically focus on some of the manuscript letters. Johnson has many that were written by ordinary people, but ones who were witnesses to some amazing events. These are the words of people who were quite literally eyewitnesses to history, and their letters will make you almost feel like you were there. Here we go.

This letter was written from Berkeley, California, on April 19, 1906. The previous day was that of the great San Francisco Earthquake. "Yesterday morning at 5:15 we had the hardest earthquake in the history of California. I tried to get out of bed but was tossed from one side to the other...Of course everyone was panic stricken." The writer takes a boat from Oakland to San Francisco, where he observes, "for an area of several square miles the whole city was a mass of flame. The entire water front had burned down in the forenoon." He goes on to say, "Market St. the principal street of the city is simply ruined not a building is left standing for nearly two miles..." He notes that the water mains had burst, so there was no water to fight the fire. "...the Fire Marshall began blowing up buildings with dynamite in hopes of saving the remainder of the City whole blocks of beautiful great large brick buildings were blown down but the fire would jump over." This was in reference to authorities' attempts to create an empty space between the fire and the remainder of the city by blowing up buildings, sort of like back-burning to stop a forest fire. "People by the thousands were sitting on the curbs on the pavements and the Parks are crowded... They are bringing thousands away on every boat and train." This astounding 3 1/2 page letter is item 48. Priced at $975.

Though perhaps better known, the San Francisco Earthquake was a minor event compared to the tragedy which unfolded on the island of Martinique a few years earlier. In May of 1902, a volcano blew out the top of Mount Pelee. Tons of hot ash descended on the town of St. Pierre. Within a matter of minutes if not seconds, virtually the entire population of 29,000 was dead. There was but one survivor, deep in the basement of a jail. The author of this 16-page letter to his mother was evidently a young newspaper reporter in a steamship out at sea. He notes that even five miles out to sea, his ship was covered with a quarter inch of dust. He first describes entering the neighboring city of Fort de France, where residents feared the same fate would befall them. He then proceeds to St. Pierre. "...we were all alone in the city with forty thousand dead bodies laying about us......In trying to go through the streets we would every once and awhile we would step on the burned and charred body of some human being....The people were laying dead where they had stood at five minutes before eight on the morning of May eighth. Women with children in their arms were seen, as if they had been trying to protect the little ones...They [authorities] had started to pour kerosene over the bodies that were lying loose, and setting fire to them..." This letter to Mrs. Reynolds in Rochester, New York, is item 49. $1,850.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Jean de Mandeville, <i>Reysen und Wanderschafften durch das Gelobte Land,</i> Strassburg, 1488. Sold for $106,250.
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. Sold for $65,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Louise Bourgeois, <i>He Disappeared Into Complete Silence,</i> portfolio with complete text & 9 engravings, 1947. Sold for $413,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Erich Maria Remarque, <i>All Quiet on the Western Front,</i> first American edition, Boston, 1929. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sir William Russell Flint, gouache & watercolor illustration for Homer's <i>Odyssey,</i> 1924. Sold for $22,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Kurt Vonnegut, archive of 12 letters, signed to his family, 6 illustrated, 1930s-40s. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Oscar Wilde, <i>Lady Windermere's Fan,</i> first edition, presentation copy, signed & inscribed, London, 1893. Sold for $27,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Emil Cardinaux, <i>St. Moritz,</i> 1918. Sold for $17,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> R.J. Waters, 3 panoramas of the San Francisco earthquake & fire, 1906. Sold for $21,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Album with 200 cartes-de-visite, including images by Felice Beato, John Thompson & F.W. Sutton, Japan & China, 1863-69. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. Sold for $40,000.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
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    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> KNIGHT, HILARY. The Original Portrait of Eloise that Hung at the Plaza Hotel. $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> WARHOL, ANDY. "Iced Lemon Delight," an Original Watercolor Presented to Hilary Knight's cat, Phoebe $8,000 to 12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> SENDAK, MAURICE. <i>Where the Wild Things Are.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED with drawing to Hilary Knight in the month following publication. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> NOLAND, KENNETH. Original circle painting, untitled, acrylic and ink on cloth, for cover of monograph $8,000 to 12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> TOULOUSE-LAUTREC. <i>Histoires Naturelles,</i> 1899. With 22 original lithographs. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>A Collection of Poems,</i> [1711]. The first authoritative and complete collected Sonnets.$15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> LONDON, JACK. <i>The Call of the Wild.</i> 1903. First edition, first state jacket. $2,000 to 3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> FROST, ROBERT. Autograph Manuscript of "Build Soil," 12 pp, 1932-1936. $15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> GOULD, GLENN. Glenn Gould's extensively annotated copy of Bach's Goldberg Variations $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> PLATH, SYLVIA. EARLY Autograph Letter Signed, about her beginnings as a writer, Northampton, MA, 1951. $7,000 to 10,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> HOUDINI, HARRY. A collection of 11 cast iron shackle and lock items from Houdini's personal collection. $20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> M4 ENGIMA MACHINE, with very rare RARE HYDRA KEY ENVELOPE. $400,000 to 600,000

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