Rare Book Monthly
Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2006 Issue
Twenty-five Major American Items in William Reese's 250th Catalogue
By Michael Stillman
The William Reese Company has now issued its 250th catalogue. In a note, William Reese recalls that he began selling books 31 years ago, and issued his first catalogue 26 years past. Reese points out, "In that time many extraordinary books and manuscripts have passed through my hands." That is a serious understatement. Reese has long been noted for handling the most important and collectible of printed, written and ephemeral Americana. His catalogues match the quality of his offerings, including thorough descriptions of the items offered and explanations of where they fit historically. A Reese catalogue is an education in American history.
Reese notes that his catalogue 250 includes "some of the most important and interesting [items] that I have had the pleasure of owning." While a sizable catalogue, this one contains just 25 items. They are, as Reese says, very important works. These are some of the most significant pieces of Americana available in private hands. Those who collect at the very highest level, or manage significant institutional collections, will find these 25 items worthy of serious consideration. Here are some of the works being offered.
Item 12 is De Moluccis Insulis... by Maximilianus Transylvanus. For those not up on Latin, this is the first printed account of Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe, the first trip ever around the world. Magellan sadly never actually made it around the world himself. He departed Spain in 1519 with five ships and 265 men. By the time the expedition returned in 1522, there was only one ship and 18 men left. Magellan was not one of them. The expedition sailed east, crossing what is now known as the Straits of Magellan below South America, and into a vast, uncharted, and calm ocean he labeled the "Pacific." He made it as far as the Philippines, which he had visited earlier traveling from the other direction, but was killed by natives. After the survivors returned, Maximilianus, a student at the time, was assigned by his teacher, the chronicler Peter Martyr, the task of interviewing the survivors and writing an account of their voyage. This is his account, and it is a first edition, published in Cologne in January 1523. Priced at $675,000.
Item 6 is a most interesting letter. It is one of recommendation from Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, to Hernan Cortes, Spanish Conquistador who captured Mexico and destroyed the Aztec empire. Cortes had a testy relationship with the Spanish court, which appreciated his conquests, but frequently had a dim view of his personality. This letter of recommendation from Charles to Cortes contains some unusually strong language, as if the King needed to make clear to his subject that he was to follow the King's wishes. The letter to Cortes, as Governor of New Spain, dated August 19, 1524, is on behalf of one Gonzalo Ocampo. Ocampo would likely have hand carried this recommendation and handed it to Cortes. In it, the King demands, "...I command and charge you that, in all things pertaining to him, you shall regard him as recommended and will help and favor him and grant him appointments in your service, appropriate to his person, that he may be benefited; for in this I shall be well served." It is signed, "I, the King." Not much room for misunderstanding here. It is not clear who Ocampo is, but there was a Gonzalo de Ocampo serving directly under Francisco de Garay in Mexico in 1523. De Garay was a rival Cortes successfully neutralized, but perhaps this association required a forceful recommendation on his part. There was also a Gonzalo de Ocampo active in South America during the 1520s, though I cannot tell whether this is the same person. $75,000.