Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - January - 2009 Issue

American Politics from the William Reese Company

American Politics from the William Reese Company.


By Michael Stillman

Well-timed for the recent, momentous election is the latest catalogue from the William Reese Company: American Politics. This 265th catalogue from the New Haven bookseller is focused on Reese's specialty of Americana, with her politics and government at the center of attention. Our elections have been a contentious lot ever since George Washington decided to stop running for president. Those who think elections are nasty today might be surprised at the vitriol which flowed from the pens of partisans in the 19th century. Somehow we muddled by. This catalogue looks at some of those contests, along with many achievements by those who eventually survived this difficult process to make it into office. Here are a few of the items Reese has concerning American political history.

Shown on the cover is part of a political cartoon from the 1856 election. It makes fun of Democratic presidential nominee James Buchanan and the various party figures who supported him. The Democrats' message, as stated by former Senator Thomas Hart Benton (in reversal of the actual Democratic slogan) is: "Men not principles." A stiff, prone James Buchanan is depicted as a "platform" of the party, whose supporters include outgoing President Franklin Pierce and the anti-slavery proponent and former President Martin Van Buren, now content to support the party for the sake of spoils. Sitting on presidential nominee Buchanan is a southern slave owner who says he cares not about the platform's supporters as long as it supports him and his "n....." The broadside mocks the ever compromising Buchanan and the Democrats, who won the election, and turned out to perform just as the cartoonist expected. Item 24. Priced at $2,000.

The presidential campaign of 1884 is not remembered as one of the most significant, but it qualifies as one of the dirtiest. This one pitted Democrat Grover Cleveland, the winner and president who messed up the presidential numbering sequence by serving nonconsecutive terms, against Maine's James G. Blaine. Blaine attacked Cleveland for fathering a child out of wedlock, while Cleveland attacked Blaine as a "liar." Both claims were true if not diplomatic. Item 39 is a sammelband of some 130 documents from the campaign, most supporting the "continental liar" Blaine over "Pa" Cleveland. Many attempt to portray Blaine as a friend of labor, as he favored higher tariffs to support American wages, while Cleveland favored lower tariffs to stimulate American sales abroad and lower prices for the consumer. $2,250.

Item 74 is the most important work of American constitutional history: The Federalist, 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, published in 1788. They were written to promote adoption of the Constitution by the states, but remain today as a resource to determining the intent of its founders. $225,000.

Item 79 is a much later edition of The Federalist, published in 1831, which would seemingly make it an unimportant copy. However, this is a very special one. It was the personal copy of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, whose early interpretations of the Constitution gave it much of the meaning it has today. His decisions led to a powerful federal government, and a strong Supreme Court. Marshall's copy contains his signature on the title page. $60,000.

Rare Book Monthly

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    Swann, Apr. 11: Lot 159: Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, London, 1844. $6,000 to $8,000.
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    Swann, Apr. 11: Lot 45: Book of Hours in Latin, Use of Rome, illuminated with miniatures, Lyon, circa 1475-1500. $40,000 to $60,000.
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    Modern First Editions
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    How History Unfolds on Paper:
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    Part IX
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    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [RUTH, George Herman “Babe” (1895-1948)]. Signed photograph. Circa 1930s. 191 x 248 mm. $1,500 to $2,500.
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    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
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    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
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