Catalogue Review:<br>James Cummins Bookseller

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Catalogue Review:<br>James Cummins Bookseller


By Mike Stillman

James Cummins Bookseller has recently issued his “Catalogue 87.” It is a varied collection of 76 items and what they have in common is that each is uncommon.

An example of uncommon is this strange book about a most unusual woman: The True and Eccentric Life of Betty Bolaine, (Late of Canturbury) a well-known character for Avarice, Meanness, and Vice; who died June 6, 1805, aged Eighty Two, whilst eating a Brown Crust; although worth Twenty thousand Pounds! Containing Anecdotes of Real Facts from her Intimate Acquaintances. Sadly, poor Betty did not have a chance to defend herself since, obviously, she was dead by the time this book was published. But not that long dead. Her reputation must have been such that no period of mourning was deemed necessary before her “intimate acquaintances” felt free to rip her to shreds. The book was published in 1805, the same year she died. And in case you think they were unfair to her, remember these stories are based on “real facts,” not fake ones.

Among the activities attributed to Ms. Bolaine is the attempted murder of her brother, forging her mother’s handwriting to change her will, and living unwed with several men, stealing the winding sheet from the corpse of one when he died. An anecdote to her thriftiness claims that she once bought a mutton pie and made it last by eating the crust, then replacing that crust again and again while leaving the filling untouched. This “tribute,” written by Elisabeth Burgess, was evidently popular enough to be reprinted in 1832 and again in 1880, although under the slightly different title “Life and History of Betty Bolaine, Late of Canterbury, a Well Known Character for Parsimony and Vice, Scarcely equalled in the Annals of Avarice and depravity, Interspersed with Original Poetry.” Item 42 is a first edition from 1805. $350.

While we’re on the subject of depravity, here’s a more serious example. Item 26 is a broadsheet from the French Revolution announcing the formation of the Committee of Public Safety, from which no one was safe. Printed on April 7, 1793, it would only be a few months later that this new committee would be seized by Robespierre, and from it the Reign of Terror would be run. This dark period of the Revolution would come to an end the following year when Robespierre would be sent to the same guillotine he sent so many others during his brief rule. $2,500,

Fast forward 25 years and the tumultuous times of the French Revolution and Napoleonic era are coming to an end. Napoleon is living out his remaining days on St. Helena following his final exile. One privilege he does still have is a library. An interesting piece in that library is Mariotte d’Avot’s Lettres sur l’Angleterre… This recounts her journey to London in 1817-1818, and ironically includes a description of a display of Napoleon’s coach. This first edition has the stamp of Napoleon’s St. Helena library plus the Emperor’s signature (“l’Emp. Napoleon”). Two years after the 1819 printing of this title, Napoleon died and his library was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1823.