Rare Book Monthly
Book Catalogue Reviews - October - 2007 Issue
David Lesser Antiquarian Books Issues Their 100th Catalogue
By Michael Stillman
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued its 100th catalogue of Rare Americana. The first was issued 18 years ago. Lesser notes of number 100, "...it's a bit bigger and, I hope, better than usual." However, he points out, "It's a lot like its predecessors..." and that, too, is true. This is fine. Lesser's catalogues are among the best in Americana you will find. He rarely handles the really expensive pieces, but generally low to mid range items, within the budget of many collectors. His books and manuscripts are always fascinating, mostly quite rare and hard to find, and provide a window on America in its early years that only something actually a part of that time can provide. For example...
In the days before medical licensing standards and AMA references, a physician was on his own to defend himself from attacks on his competence. In 1840, poor Dr. Ahlenfeld of Hampshire, Virginia, was evidently the subject of such an attack. To defend his practice he printed a broadside, with the following head: To the public. I can refrain no longer from noticing the unremitting hostility, which I have had to encounter ever since my removal to Hampshire, by a combination of invidious and malicious individuals, who are harassing me in every way, and insidiously trying to injure my practice as a physician, by their nefarious calumniations, in endeavoring, both directly and indirectly, to make the people of this community, and out of this neighborhood believe that I am but a common quack... Ahlenfeld was a German immigrant, perhaps part of his problem, with degrees from Berlin and the University of Maryland. He prints recommendations from a Maryland physician and professor and claims the attacks "are actuated by disgraceful and selfish motives." Today, physicians have to fend off malpractice suits. In 1840, they had to defend nefarious calumniations. It isn't easy being a doctor. Item 5. Priced at $600.
Lesser has several song sheets available. Item 31 includes eight from the 1870s from San Francisco publisher Bell and Company. Among the songs are 'Make Room For Your Uncle,' 'New Year's Song, 1876,' 'First She Would and Then She Wouldn't, or, O You Naughty, Naughty Man,' and the ever popular 'Since Mary Ann Learned How To Dance The Tra-La-La-Loo.' $175. Item 46 is a collection of 59 ballads from the 1850s-1880s by H. De Marsan, including 'Captain De Wellington's Boots,' 'The Landlord's Pet,' 'The New Skeddadle Song,' and 'Smiggey McGuirrel.' Favorites all. $850.
Item 81 is an unusual collection of Lincoln items. It contains thirty orders from Lincoln following his review of military courts martial. Charges include treasonous activities by civilians, spying by Confederates, desertion and the like by Union soldiers, as well as more serious crimes such as rape and murder. Lincoln overturned many verdicts and commuted most death sentences unless the crimes were most serious. Lesser notes that these orders provide a great insight into Lincoln's careful performance of his duties of office. $1,500.