Delivered at The New York Public Library
William S. Reese
MY TOPIC this evening is the booksellers who have specialized in Americana. This sounds specific, but in fact it is terribly vague, since there are few more amorphous words in the vocabulary of collecting than "Americana." In its largest sense, it can mean anything from Philadelphia high boys to baseball cards, with a good deal of what the late San Francisco dealer, Warren Howell, used to call "three dimensional hard stuff" in between. Having been offered items ranging from a piece of the rope which hung one of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, to the dress sword of General Nelson Miles with a grip made from the thigh bone of the Apache chief, Cochise, I know the possibilities of the word. In the more bookish sense, though, it means, most accurately, anything to do with the western hemisphere, from the publication of Columbus' account of his encounter in 1493, until the present.
More usually and chauvinistically, in this country it is taken to mean any printed works or manuscripts dealing with the area which now makes up the United States, from the first European explorations until the closing of the western frontier circa 1890.
I, personally, am an Americana dealer in the hemispheric sense, since I am one of the few in this country today to maintain a stock of early Latin Americana; but the heart of my business, and that of many dealers in the field today, is what the Chicago dealer and bibliographer, Wright Howes, called "U.S.iana." While there are early and distinct traditions of collecting Latin Americana, the core of the Americana book trade and collecting began as a transAtlantic exchange of books and manuscripts from Europe to the United States, and then blossomed in this country in both the hemispheric and "U.S.iana" sense. Most of the raw material for the latter, of course, has always been here. For the purposes of this evening, when I say "Americana," I mean printed materials books, maps, pamphlets, and broadsides or manuscripts, in the larger hemispheric sense, and I will use Howes' infelicitous but accurate "U.S.iana" where it applies.
Americana as a specialty has been actively dealt in for 165 years now, since the opening of Obadiah Rich's establishment in London in 1828. There were certainly collectors of Americana prior to that, but their collecting goals were almost wholly concerned with data gathering. While such figures as Bishop White Kennett, who assembled a reference library for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the Reverend Thomas Prince of Boston, who assiduously collected local history and imprints from the time of his graduation from Harvard in the early 18th century, are important in the story of Americana, they are isolated figures operating in a comparative vacuum, remote from the Americanist tradition that begins in unbroken succession with Rich and leads to the present day. For myself, one of the pleasures and prides of the antiquarian book business in general and Americana in particular is the sense of a continuity of shared knowledge and interest that is inherent in the catalogues, bibliographies and, for that matter, gossip passed on by generations linked by common interests and acquaintances. I feel a link to Obadiah Rich, not only through sympathetic feeling, but in fact through a direct chain of booksellers of different generations who knew each other well. This sense of continuity is hardly limited to the trade; indeed, the building we are meeting in and the collections housed here are one notable result of it, in the person of James Lenox and his benefactions to New York and to any researchers who came here in the past or who will come in the future.
I can offer several theories to account for the emergence of Americana as a separate bookselling discipline when it did, in the late 1820s. The first impetus, by no means limited to the bibliographical world, was the rapidly growing power, self confidence and self esteem of the United States. A conviction of the specialness of the country naturally led to an urge to investigate its history, and made it desirable and necessary to gather the materials from which that history could be written. As we will see, this very process was immediately responsible for creating the first specialist bookseller in the field.
On a deeper level, the emergence of Americana as a separate field was part of a larger change in the world of books brought on by the Napoleonic Wars. Prior to the French Revolution, the traditional paths of book collecting focused on the book as a physical object. A primarily aristocratic group of collectors assembled books notable for traits other than their text early printing, editions of the Bible, books printed on vellum, and the like. Those patterns certainly continued, and indeed probably reached their apogee in 19th century England. At the same time, important collections were formed with the chief goal of assembling repositories of information, but no one would have confused the entirely different modes, and ends, of collecting. Almost all antiquarian booksellers were generalists, not specialists. In short, there was a strong distinction between books collected as icons by wealthy individuals and material accumulated for its text, sometimes by the same individuals but also by libraries, businessmen, colonizers and clerics.
The quarter century of turmoil which engulfed Europe from 1789 to 1815 had a radical impact on book collecting. It turned the continent upside down and shook it, tumbling books and manuscripts which had been locked away for centuries out of noble houses, religious institutions, government ministries, and hitherto sacrosanct archives and libraries. After 1815 there were vast supplies of old books loose on a scale which has only been duplicated after the comparable military and economic upheaval at the end of World War II. The potential customers had changed, too, as the collapse of the ancien regimeand the Industrial Revolution created a much larger wealthy bourgeoisie. To this class, perhaps, it was natural to combine the utility of information with the aristocratic pastime of book collecting. Out of this conjunction of historical and economic developments, I would argue, the modern rare book trade evolved. One of the first distinct specialties to emerge was Americana, and the first bookseller in the field was Obadiah Rich.
Rich was a native of Massachusetts, born in Truro in 1783. He grew up in Boston, where he was active, while still in his early twenties, in both the Massachusetts Historical Society (the oldest such institution in the United States and the first to form a research collection) and the Anthology Club (the precursor of the Boston Athenaeum). These associations brought Rich into contact with the best and the brightest of Boston, but they also impressed on him the paucity of resources in the libraries there. For example, around this time John Quincy Adams made a survey of the Harvard and Boston libraries and discovered that only a quarter of the sources cited by Gibbon in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empirecould be found in them. When Rich went to Spain as a merchant in 1809, his first foreign excursion, he spent much of his time obtaining books for his friends and institutional contacts in the United States, before the Peninsular War drove him home.
In 1816 Rich returned to Spain as consul in Valencia, and later as secretary to the embassy in Madrid. He was now in the perfect position to take advantage of the bibliographical opportunities left in the wake of the Napoleonic wars. Over the next decade, he amassed out of the wreckage of monasteries and noble houses an extraordinary collection of books and manuscripts relating to the Americas. It was indeed the opportunity of the century, for at no prior point had such quantities of important material have been publicly available. As an aside, a similar situation occurred in Mexico in the 1850s when Juarez disestablished the Catholic Church. Most of the great monastic libraries were broken up, and the greatest private collections of early Mexican imprints those of Andrade, Ramirez, Icazbalceta, and Leon were quickly formed in the following decade. This same process took place in many other fields, and indeed has followed on the heels of every great convulsion of modern history. This is what the great dealer, E.P. Goldschmidt, had in mind when he said that every great book has been stolen at least twice.
The turning point in Rich's life came in 1826. His old Boston friend, Alexander Everett, was now ambassador to Spain. Everett invited Washington Irving, who had become interested in early Spanish exploration, to come visit. Within several weeks of his arrival, Irving and Rich had become such fast friends that the historian had decided to write a life of Columbus and moved into Rich's house to use his collection. "In the curious collection of Mr. Rich," Irving wrote, "I find materials collected together, which I should otherwise have had to hunt for through public libraries, and I have under my hand, the most rare and curious works relative to the discovery of America." Before he left, Irving had completed the bulk of his biography, a work which would be acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic, and Rich had crossed the line into the vocation he had been drifting toward for years. Spain was a fertile ground for buying books but a bad place to do business. His shipments were repeatedly seized by customs, despite his diplomatic status, and he decided to move.
In 1828 Rich arrived in London and established himself at Red Lion Square, several blocks from the present location of Quaritch. From there in 1832 he issued the first bookseller's catalogue devoted entirely to Americana, listing almost 500 items printed prior to 1700. As with all of Rich's published catalogues, this was both a sale catalogue and an effort at bibliography, listing items he had seen but did not have available for sale; but he could offer such great rarities as the 1519 Enciso Suma de geographicwith the first sailing directions of the New World, and the 1543 laws of the Indies, which is the most expensive item, at £21. A remarkable number of the English tracts on North American settlements from the first half of the 17th century give testimony to how active Rich had been since arriving in England. This catalogue was only a beginning. Three years later he issued another catalogue cumbibliography covering the period from 1701 to 1800, and in 1844 he added a third volume covering the 19th century. These latter two volumes, called collectively Bibliotheca Americana Nova,are the works most often associated with his name today. At the time, they were the most useful reference to Americana, and also effective sales tools. Much of Rich's later bookselling career was occupied with simply filling orders for books that were listed there.
Rich's publications were an effective promotion of his stock, and he seems to have flourished in business, with his main customers being the larger American libraries and welltodo men of letters like Irving or William Prescott. The purchasers were almost entirely interested in the material for its informational value, even if some of his wares were exceptionally valuable books. It is interesting, in this context, that institutions played a large part in the American business well before they became major factors in other fields. This is due, I think, to the dual conception of Americana rarities as both icon and text, especially prior to the era of widespread reprinting, when the original edition was generally the only edition. Rich did a brisk business in having transcripts made of manuscripts relating to America in European archives as well, a large collection of which can be found here in The New York Public today. What he lacked were wealthy amateur collectors who would take the field he had defined and pursue it. It was not Rich but Henry Stevens of Vermont who brought wealthy book collectors and Americana together.
Henry Stevens was certainly the leading American bookseller of the 19th century. No other dealer handled as many great books or gambled as much on his faith in his topic, although not always with success, for Stevens always managed to spend money slightly faster than he made it, and all too frequently he was forced to sell under the pressure of looming debt. But he did more than anyone to transform the market in Americana into one dominated for a time by wealthy collectors, and he swelled the transAtlantic trickle of material to a steady stream.
Stevens was born in Vermont in 1819. He was so proud of his Green Mountain Boy heritage that he often attached "of Vermont" to his name, just as he defiantly listed "Blackballed Athenaeum Club" after his degrees and memberships on the titlepages of his catalogues. His formal education was at Yale, where he served as librarian of the Linolean Reading Society, but a bookselling education was gained while prospecting for obscure American publications for the Washington, D.C. publisher and collector, Peter Force. Stevens began Harvard Law School, but the pull of Americana was strong. In the fall of 1844, while attending an auction in Boston, he met John Carter Brown of Providence. Brown had conceived an interest in the early history of the Americas, and after a meeting in Providence, he gave Stevens a general commission to act as his agent. Stevens knew where to go. He sold his own library at auction, packed his bags and moved to London, where the books were.
He arrived in July 1845, a "self-appointed missionary," as he later said, determined to bring great Americana to America. His first coup was simple. He went to see Rich, persuaded him to reserve £650 worth of books 378 volumes, some of breathtaking rarity and sold them to Brown for a handsome profit without laying out any cash of his own. It was maneuvers such as this that got Stevens in hot water later in his career, but in this case it worked well for all concerned. Brown got no less than three editions of the Columbus Letter, although he made the mistake of rejecting the Plaanck edition as too expensive at £17. From there on the invoice, arranged chronologically by the methodical Stevens, includes many of the greatest rarities in both Latin Americana and early North American material, with no items printed later than 1701. Within a few more months, Stevens sold him almost as much again, in two more groups. After the last batch, Brown evidently felt he had swallowed enough, at least temporarily, and wrote Stevens that he felt "pretty well supplied with Old Books on the subject of America...tho far from being complete...it will do pretty well for a private Gentleman's library."
Fortunately for Stevens, he had not counted on Brown's largesse alone. Within his first year in London, he had developed important customers on both sides of the Atlantic, most notably James Lenox of New York, who became a major buyer of Americana about six months after Brown, and George Brinley of Hartford; this triumvirate comprised the first three great collectors of Americana in the United States. The collections of Brown and Lenox are today the bases for the two largest institutional collections of early Americana, at the John Carter Brown Library and here at The New York Public, while Brinley's books were dispersed in the largest American book auction of the 19th century. Others, such as Henry C. Murphy of Brooklyn and his old patron, Force, were also buying. At the same time, Stevens used his contacts in the United States to bring U.S.iana to England for the British Museum. With Rich's accumulated stock at his disposal and enough collectors to create competition, Stevens transformed the Americana marketplace and revised prices upward accordingly. Brown, who had been in on the ground floor, groaned about "extraordinary high prices," but continued to buy despite his earlier resolution. Lenox, on the other hand, was not as concerned about price if he got the books he wanted. He told Stevens that when it came to real rarities, he "could at present find the five pound notes more easily than such books." It must have been a happy day for Stevens when he heard that.
By 1847 Stevens was, in the words of John Russell Bartlett (later John Carter Brown's librarian, but at that point a New York bookseller), "the great monopolist of American books in London." With Rich in poor health (he died in 1850), Stevens sought to become the only game in town for Americana, trying to make his monopoly a reality by outbidding and outspending potential competitors. He made no effort to make friends in the British trade, where he was regarded as a Yankee upstart, in any case, for refusing to take part in the auction ring and being shamelessly slow in paying his bills. It worked well enough in the 1850s, and Stevens prospered despite the chip on his shoulder. The best printed record of his activity in this period, and another work that is both a bookseller's catalogue and a contribution to bibliography, is his Historical Nuggets,an elaborate twovolume work listing over 3000 items. Although not issued until 1862, it existed in proof sheets as early as 1857, and it shows the extraordinary wealth of material that Stevens' persistent methods had unearthed.
Ironically, the very existence of Historical Nuggetsas a published work marks the decline of Stevens' fortunes. His goal was to sell the catalogue en bloc tohis customers in the States, but each in turn dragged his feet or bargained for lower prices. Then disaster struck. The beginning of the Civil War virtually suspended the rare book business in the States for the duration. Stevens later wrote, "On the first gun of Ft. Sumter...clients shut up like clam shells, and began to practice those beautiful virtues of providence and economy which protected themselves and at the same time ruined me." Compounding his misfortune was a venture that at first had seemed to be a brilliant deal. In 1860 he bought from Asher in Berlin the entire library of Alexander von Humboldt, some 17,000 volumes, a third of which were items not in the British Museum, for £4000. Stevens spent several years preparing an auction catalogue, then waited for the War to end so that transAtlantic competition would resume. In June 1865, on the eve of the projected sale, the entire library was lost in a devastating fire at Sotheby's.
Although he was active for another two decades and founded a distinguished firm which survives to this day, Stevens never recovered his financial equilibrium or his monopolistic position. His career until his death in 1886 was a struggle to catch up. Hardwon treasures were let go, starting with the Bay Psalm Book, sold to George Brinley in 1864. Ordering it, Brinley wrote this memorable letter: "When I last had the pleasure of seeing you here you said you would sell your Bay Psalm Book for One thousand dollars (our currency, greenbacks). If you are of the same mind now I will pay the money in your order on receipt of the dirty little book upon condition that the transaction is strictly private. I do not want my next friend to know that I possess it because the next step of knowledge among Yankees is `What did you pay for it?'"
The same copy of the Bay Psalm Book was the last one to appear at public sale, brought by Dr. Rosenbach in 1947 for $151,000. It is now at Yale. Stevens had acquired it in a contemporary binding, but, in the taste of the day, rebound it in full gilt crushed morocco. This treatment was symptomatic of a problem which afflicted much important Americana in the eyes of the book collectors. They were "dirty little books." Collectors who aspired to the dignity of a "Gentleman's Library" might compete for the rare tracts that comprised Americana, but in their eyes something had to be done to dress them up. Stevens understood this perfectly. He kept the British binders, Pratt and Bedford, busy for years. Most of the important collectors had an interest in their topic, but rarity and appearance were often as important as content.
Readers of Edith Wharton will recall that at the beginning of her novel, The House of Mirth,there is a discussion of Americana book collecting. The heroine, Lily Bart, is in the apartment of her friend, Selden, and takes advantage of his knowledge of the book world to gather some information which might be useful in her pursuit of marriage to the dull but very rich young Americana collector, Mr. Percy Gryce. Lily says to Selden, "'And Americana do you collect Americana?' Selden stared and laughed. `No, that's rather out of my line. I'm not really a collector, you see; I simply like to have good editions of the books I'm fond of.' She made a slight grimace. `And Americana are horribly dull, I suppose?' `I should fancy so except to the historian. But your real collector values a Ding for its rarity. I don't suppose the buyers of Americana sit up reading them all night old Jefferson Gryce certainly didn't.' She was listening with keen attention. `And yet Hey fetch fabulous prices, don't they? It seems so odd to want to pay a lot for an ugly badlyprinted book that one is never going to read! And I suppose most of the owners of Americana are not historians either?' `No; very few of the historians can afford to buy them. They have to use those in the public libraries or in private collections. It seems to be the mere rarity which attracts the private collector.'"
This piece of dialogue, however unfair it may be in characterizing those interested in Americana, puts its finger squarely on a central issue raised by the emergence of the field as a separate collecting discipline. Mrs. Wharton was not the first sardonic observer to question whether the acquirers of the raw materials of American history were motivated by scholarship or misplaced pride. It was easy to assume that Americana collectors did not read their treasures when the consistently most expensive book in the field in the 19th century was the Eliot Indian Bible, the most important product of the first press in the British colonies, but unfortunately written in Algonquian. The value of the Eliot Bible to collectors was purely as an icon, and this was certainly the real motivation of many collectors. Whatever their reasons, some of these acquisitors founded great libraries. It is likely that Mrs. Wharton, familiar with Rhode Island society, had John Nicholas Brown, the son of John Carter Brown, in mind when she created the hapless Percy Gryce, blindly continuing his father's book collection as a family tradition. Almost as she wrote the words, the John Carter Brown Library was being given to Brown University as a public institution.
Americana booksellers have always been engaged in a balancing act between their material as historical evidence and its appeal, or lack of it, in the more traditional bibliophilic sense of physical beauty. This certainly explains many of the physical alterations made to the books themselves in terms of bindings. This may also explain why, more than most fields, bibliography has so often sprung from the book trade. A substantial number of the most important reference works in Americana are by booksellers, whether formal bibliographies, sales catalogues, or collection catalogues growing out of their efforts. Is this a desire to justify the historical importance of the material, or a desire to add as many things as possible to the rolls of collectible books? Both of these motives guided the booksellers, who thus played a role in shaping the field physically and intellectually.
Let us turn to Joseph Sabin, the leading Americana dealer of the late 19th century, and a bookseller better remembered today for bibliography than bookselling. His Bibliotheca Americana, or a dictionary of books relating to America, listsover 100,000 items and remains an important reference tool, although it is so far from exhaustive that the habit of European booksellers of citing items as "Not in Sabin" should fool no one. Sabin was born in England and apprenticed in the book trade in Oxford before coming to the United States in 1848. Throughout his career he oscillated between bookselling and auctioneering, and in the latter role he catalogued several important collections of U.S.iana in the early 1850s which directed his interest as an Americana specialist. In 1859 he issued his first proposal for a massive bibliography to encompass all printed material relating to the Americas. The Civil War delayed the project, but in 1867, amid an active business and numerous auctions, Sabin issued the first number of the Bibliotheca Americana. In the introduction he states that he interpreted the topic "with a wide meaning." As Thomas Adams has noted, Sabin considered anything to be Americana which could be sold as such. The best examples of this, perhaps, are theological works written by ministers in New England but published in England. Sabin concluded that they belonged in the bibliography because "at all events, they are books sought for with avidity and at high prices by the collectors of `Americana,' and if only for that reason, have a right to appear here." He labeled such books "inferential Americana."
Until his demise from overwork in 1881, Sabin was a nonstop cataloguing machine, preparing most of the major auction sales of several decades in Americana and more general areas, as well as carrying the Bibliotheca Americanatothe middle of the letter "M." The project was then taken over by the young bookseller, Wilberforce Eames, who carried it to the entries for Capt. John Smith before leaving the trade to work at the Lenox Library. From 1892 to 1924 the remainder of the project hung in limbo while Eames dealt with his manifold duties at the Lenox, and later, the American history division of The New York Public Library. A team led by R.W.G. Vail finished Sabin's Bibliothecain 1935. Sabin, like many booksellers who followed him, saw bibliography as both a useful reference and a sales tool. His pragmatic approach focused as closely on more recent, U.S.iana books, as on the earlier European Americana which was the primary interest of Rich and Stevens. His bibliography showed an interest in local history, Western Americana, American natural history, and a legion of other possible genres within the larger topic. His diligence paid off in his business and in the field of Americana in general. From 1867 on, many more private collectors entered the field, a number of larger institutions stepped up purchasing, and the market boomed. Sabin was clearly its leader, organizing auctions, carrying on the bibliography, and building the largest importexport business in the field, in Americana and American publications. Among sales conducted by him were those of the libraries of Thomas Field, William Menzies, bookseller William Gowans, and John C. Rice of Chicago. His final triumph was the George Brinley sale, beginning in 1879. He presided over the sale of the collection's greatest rarities in the first three sessions, succumbing a week after the third sale ended in 1881.
By the end of the 19th century, there were a number of booksellers in the United States who had followed Sabin's lead in making Americana their stock in trade. No single dealer could dominate the expanding market, but one firm, Dodd, Mead, was certainly the most significant force in the market around the turn of the century. This is surprising to those who think of Dodd, Mead as publishers, but from 1880 to 1910 they also ran the largest rare book operation in the U.S. Originally specialists in literary materials, they backed into Americana in 1886 by taking on consignment a number of books from Henry N. Stevens, who was trying to raise money from his father's bookrich but cashpoor estate. The staff of the firm at the time was a roster of future greats: besides Robert Dodd, the managing partner, there were George H. Richmond and William E. Benjamin, later independently two of the leading booksellers of New York; James F. Drake, who went on to found the famous literature firm; and a sixteen yearold errand boy, George D. Smith. All of these but Drake were to deal extensively in Americana, especially Smith, who was the leading figure in bookselling in the United States from the Daly sale in 1900 until his death in 1920. Indeed, as Henry Huntington's agent, Smith probably purchased more rare Americana in a shorter period of time than anyone. The young Smith must have watched carefully when the collector, E. Dwight Church, came into the Broadway store of Dodd, Mead andpurchased the bulb of their catalogue 14, which consisted entirely of the Stevens consignment. Church remained the Dodd, Mead's best customer until 1905, when the impending publication of his collection catalogue caused him, as similar monuments have so many collectors, to stop buying. Dodd, Mead published the Church catalogue in 1907, the year before the collector's death and the collection's en bloc transfer via Smith to Huntington in 1908. Since the books were almost wholly supplied by Dodd, Mead, the catalogue is also a good chronicle of the firm's activities. It is a landmark in bibliographical description, and still a primary reference in early Americana; but it was also the firm's swan song, and Dodd, Mead left the antiquarian book business in 1910, outdone by its well trained employees.
Perhaps the most important specialist of the first half of the 20th century was Lathrop C. Harper. Harper dealt in two distinct fields, incunabula and Americana. Born into a well-to-do New York merchant family, a remote cousin of the publisher, Harper, Lathrop entered the book business in 1887 at age twenty as an employee of his older brother, Francis, who had begun a general used book store in 1881. Francis did have a particular interest in American history, but it seems to have expressed itself through publishing. Francis commissioned the historian, Elliott Coues, to produce some of the first scholarly editions of important travel narratives such as Lewis and Clark, and Pike, and published important manuscript accounts of exploration. Lathrop seems to have taken charge of the antiquarian end of the business and prepared book catalogues. In 1911 Francis retired from business, while Lathrop moved uptown and across the street from this building, which had just opened its doors. Here he had convenient access to the rare Americana of the former Lenox Library and to his good friend, Wilberforce Eames, now the chief of the American History Division. The quiet, scholarly Eames, having spent his early career in the antiquarian business, always had a special affinity for booksellers, and many younger Americana experts located themselves around the library to be near its resources and his helpful knowledge. Harper, ever courteous to younger members of the trade, came to play a similar role of mentor in later years.
In 1912 Harper married Mabel Urner, who was just beginning her own career writing a syndicated series, "The Married Life of Helen and Warren." This weekly piece, very successful in its day, appeared for the next three decades and made Mrs. Harper a wealthy woman, as she chronicled the fictional and sometimes semifictional adventures of a bon vivantmarried couple who somewhat resembled the Harpers. Inveterate dinersout, evidently even breakfast, the reallife Mabel and Lathrop never bothered to have the stove hooked up in their Gramercy Place apartment, and used the unplugged refrigerator to shelve Mrs. Harper's excess shoes. The Harpers' frequent trips to Europe for book hunting and sight seeing were chronicled in such episodes as "An Appalling Discovery at a Haughty London Hotel." Although Harper never spoke any languagebut English, he bought much of his stock on these transAtlantic excursions. When asked how he communicated, he said, "I knew the word for `imperfect' in seventeen languages."
Starting with William Clements in 1911, many of the major collectors of Americana in the United States were Harper customers. Henry Wagner, Herschel Jones, Grenville Kane, James McCoy, Tracy McGregor and Thomas W. Streeter all bought some of their best books from him. The bulk of Streeter's first collection of colonial Americana came from Harper during the 1920s, only to be sold back to him in 1930 when Streeter was hardpressed after the Crash. While some of the books were dispersed, for years Harper maintained a "Streeter shelf" to allow the collector to repurchase his treasures. Harper was also intimately involved with the Clements Library at the University of Michigan, which he had helped form as Clements' chief agent, and with the John Carter Brown Library. After a period of little growth after the death of the first John Nicholas Brown in 1900 and its incorporation within Brown University, the Library came to life in terms of acquisitions in 1924 with a dynamic new librarian, Lawrence Wroth, and the active interest of the second John Nicholas Brown, the grandson of the founder.
Harper was at his peak from 1920, when the death of George Smithremoved the most serious competition to himself and Dr. Rosenbach, until his death, at his desk, in 1950. Perhaps the best surviving catalogue record of his career is the sixpart Americana catalogue issued between 1941 and 1948, an impressive valedictory performance in its range and scope. The material included is a fairly equal balance of earlier European Americana and U.S.iana, especially early imprints, and demonstrates the breadth of his interests. Harper was a great bookseller who handled many important books in his long career, but his greater role may have been his encouragement of younger members of the trade and his work on behalf of numerous institutions, who also received funds from both his and his wife's wills. Harper bequests created endowments at this library as well as at the John Carter Brown, New York Historical, William Clements, and Pierpont Morgan, and for the BSA and the Grolier Club.
Harper's closest associate in the book trade was the man usually thought of as the leading rare book dealer of this century, Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach. The Doctor was also a major factor in the Americana market, perhaps as important as Harper himself. I will pass over him quickly this evening both because a lecture later in this series is devoted to him alone, and because Edwin Wolf's extraordinarily detailed and entertaining biography of him, required reading for anyone interested in book collecting in the United States, recounts many of his Americana dealings in detail. In many ways, Americana was Dr. Rosenbach's first love, inherited, he claimed, from his uncle, Moses Polock, a Philadelphia bookseller who specialized in early American imprints and Franklin material. The first catalogue of the Rosenbach Company was devoted to Americana books, and the final contents of the Doctor's library at the Rosenbach Foundation reflects both his love of the subject and the quality of material which passed through his hands in fifty years of active bookselling. Perhaps what is most important about Rosenbach and Americana is the company he put it in. Here was the leading antiquarian bookseller of the United States, his shelves full of some of the greatest books and manuscripts in the world, as enthusiastic about the dirty little products of the early American press as he was about the greatest monuments of European printing. The same might have been said of George D. Smith, but Rosenbach knew and loved the genre, and promoted his favorite to a degree out of proportion to the role it played in his business as a whole. Some of the greatest of the firm's catalogues were devoted to U.S.iana manuscripts, notably July 4, 1776 and the threepart History of America in Documents. Rosenbach placed Americana on the grandest levels of the rare book world in the United States.
A difficulty in looking at the career of any bookseller is the general lack of available evidence. Wolf's Rosenbachwas written with the use of the firm's extensive records, by an employee of twenty years with great bibliographical skills of his own. Trying to reconstruct the story of a Rosenbach or a Harper from book catalogues gives us only a fragment of the story. Most major booksellers do the bulk of their business privately. Warren Howell, for instance, who was one of the leading Americana dealers until his death in 1984, seldom issued catalogues. His most elaborate catalogue in U.S.iana, the Crocker collection, represented a consignment arrangement, not stock. My own experience, as a dealer known for issuing many catalogues, is that they represent less than 20% of my business. In the case of Lathrop Harper and some other 20th century Americana dealers, it is instructive to go through the Thomas W. Streeter sale catalogue noting the provenance for individual items. The sources of supply for one of the leading collectors of the period from 1920 to 1965 probably gives the best picture of the dealers who were either the leaders in their field or were coming up with the most interesting material, or both.
Having said this, I must contradict myself somewhat, because the firm which appears most often as the vendor to Streeter, and which was the leading all around dealer in U.S.iana for much of this century, was also the most prolific issuer of catalogues. That is Goodspeed's Book Shop of Boston. Founded in 1898 by Charles Goodspeed, the firm still continues today under his son, George. From the beginning, Goodspeed's dealt in Americana as well as literature and books covering a broad range of general topics. C.E. Goodspeed relates many interesting stories of his early days in business, especially concerning American manuscripts, in his memoir, Yankee Bookseller.
Goodspeed's began to issue catalogues devoted exclusively to U.S.iana almost immediately. Their catalogue 45, in 1906, lists 2500 items, arranged mainly by state. As the firm flourished, it hired a teenager, Michael Walsh, as a floor sweeper. Seventyfive years later he was still selling books at Goodspeed's. The firm's great success in the field is largely attributable to him. With little formal education, his intuitive feel for U.S.iana soon became evident, and by the mid1920s he was running the Americana department. In 1927 he produced one of the greatest catalogues of U.S.iana ever issued, No. 168, beginning with one of the four known copies of the third extant U.S. imprint, A Declaration of former passages and proceedings betwixt the English and the Narrowgansetts, printed by Steven Daye in Cambridge in 1645. The whole catalogue lists over fifty pre1700 U.S. imprints. Only at George Brinley's auction sale in 1879 had more American incunables been on the market at the same time. Like most of Goodspeed's offerings, No. 168 concentrated on the territory of the United States and Canada, seldom spilling into the larger spheres Harper preferred, but within those limits it remains one of the richest bookseller's catalogues ever issued in the field.
In 1936 Goodspeed's moved to the location at 18 Beacon Street which was its home until the early 1980s. This always seemed to me, and I am sure to many others, one of the quintessential bookstores in the United States. The first floor was given over to the print department and general stock. The Americana department occupied a large room on the second floor front, with a view of the State Capitol and the Common, lined with shelves and a large safe stuffed with rarities. Almost 300 catalogues, many featuring U.S.iana, flowed from this location. Besides their regular series, in 1929 Goodspeed's inaugurated a periodical catalogue, The Month at Goodspeed's,covering recent acquisitions in all fields. The quotient of U.S.iana is high in these issues of The Month,and since there is an index to the fortyyear run, it is valuable both for reference and as a barometer of the American book trade in its era. The Monthand the catalogues are a tribute both to the industry of the firm and the wealth of books available between the wars and into the 1960s. Few booksellers could attempt a publication like The Monthtoday. As I said earlier, perusing the provenance entries in the Streeter sale catalogue shows Goodspeed's to have been his largest single source of supply, most strongly in items east of the Mississippi, but most famously thecopy of Lewis and Clark, in original boards, uncut and virtually untouched. When Michael Walsh bought it, the volumes were wrapped in Philadelphia newspapers of 1814. He sold it to Streeter for $750 at a time when regular sets went for $75. Mike told me that when he quoted the price to Streeter in 1944, Streeter's response was, "At that price it better have diamonds in the binding." In 1967 Yale bought it for $35,000, a record price for a piece of Western Americana at the time.
Looking toward material relating to the transMississippi, the undisputed leader in Western Americana prior to the Streeter Sale was Edward Eberstadt and Sons founded in 1906. Ed Eberstadt evidently started his career as a specialist in Latin Americana, and although the firm did little in the area in later years, there was still a huge inventory of Latin American material when the business was sold to John Jenkins in 1975. Eberstadt's own version of his choice of subject area was a characteristically colorful tale. He claimed that he was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot one day when he realized a desperate need to find a bathroom. Reaching the Brooklyn side, he rushed into a garage and asked to use the rest room. The paper in the john was supplied from a shelf of oldbooks. Looking them over, he discovered one that seemed very old, bought it from the garage owner for fifty cents and took it to Wilberforce Eames, from whom he learned it was a slightly imperfect 16th century Mexican imprint. He sold the book to Lathrop Harper and decided to enter the book business.
After several slow years dealing in Latin Americana, Eberstadt became interested in U.S.iana, becoming the first to specialize in the infant area of Western Americana. In 1918 he moved to 42nd Street, joining the concentration of dealers around this library, and the following year Ed got his big break. As his son, Lindley, later told me, Ed was the host of a regular Saturday afternoon poker game for booksellers in the book room of his store. Business was in the doldrums after the War, and they were seldom bothered with customers. One Saturday, though, a customer did show up, and somewhat reluctantly Ed let him in, invited him to make himself at home, and returned to the back of the shop. An hour later, Ed stuck his head out, thinking the visitor would be gone. Instead, the man had built three or four stacks of books to take. Ed turned on his heel and addressed the players. "Boys," he said, "the game's over."
The customer was William Robertson Coe, the head of Johnson & Higgins. He had bought Buffalo Bill's ranch in Cody, Wyoming as a summer home several years earlier, and now wanted to collect books on Wyoming. He soon made Eberstadt his exclusive agent, and expanded his areas of interest to all of the West in the Anglo but not the French or Spanish eras. Mr. Coe had definite theories about westward expansion and the triumph of the white race that were far from politically correct, leaving Yale some important holes to fill when his collection ultimately went there; but he made Eberstadt's career. With the Coe patronage, the firm ran smoothly through boom and depression, and the profits allowed the Eberstadts to amass a large stock of rare material, often in frightening multiples. Like Henry Stevens, they were monopolists. In turn, this inventory brought all of the great collectors of Western Americana to them: Streeter, Everett Graff, Everett DeGolyer, W.J. Holliday, and Frederick W. Beinecke. Eberstadt's book knowledge was impressive, but all who knew him agree that his remarkable personality, his storytelling, and his sense of humor, were as important in his success.
Ed's sons, Lindley and Charles, entered the business in the 1930s and continued after his death in 1957. During the period when all three were involved, they produced an impressive series of catalogues, made useful as reference tools in their indexed reissue. Once again, one must look to sources like the Coe Collection at Yale, or to the provenance in the Streeter sale, to find many of the greatest treasures which passed through their hands. In the 1960s, Charles Eberstadt produced a final flurry of impressive catalogues, but after the Streeter sale, both brothers essentially retired; and in 1975, after Charles' death, Lindley sold the massive stock to John Jenkins.
This overview of Americana booksellers has necessarily been brief, and in discussing some of the most important, I must pass quickly over others who were scarcely less so. I'll quickly sketch in some of these.
After Rich and Stevens, a number of booksellers based in Europe made Americana a specialty. Frederick Muller of Amsterdam, who issued important catalogues of Dutch exploration and the first bibliography of New Netherland, and Charles LeClerc of Paris, who specialized in Latin Americana and published two detailed catalogue/bibliographies in 1878 and 1881, are two prominent Continental examples of the 19th century. In England, the Stevens firm continued and in the mid-20th century again flourished and issued a distinguished series of catalogues under Roland Tree, the soninlaw of the third Henry Stevens. Applying again the Streeter provenance yardstick, we would find the firm of Stevens under Tree's guidance as the fourth greatest supplier, with Goodspeed, Eberstadt and Harper, to that consummate collector.
Several of the major British firms made Americana a specialty, and both Quaritch and Francis Edwards had important stocks. Head and shoulder over all of the British firms, however, was Maggs Brothers. Starting around the First World War, the firm amassed huge holdings of early Americana, particularly Spanish and Portuguese books, and from 1920 on issued landmark catalogues, particularly those in their Bibliotheca Americanaseriesfrom 1922 to 1928. A special catalogue in 1929 of 106 Americana exhibited at the Library of Congress contains a hairraising concentration of rarities. As bibliophilic tours de force,these collectively are unequaled in the genre. Several generations later, Maggs still has the best stock of Americana in England.
In this country, I've had to pass over such early dealers in Americana as Bartlett and Welford, and William Gowans, and later luminaries such as Charles Everitt. Everitt, by the way, wrote the most amusing bookseller's memoir in the field, The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter in Search of Americana,published by Little, Brown in 1951 after heavy editing by Michael Walsh to remove the libelous parts. While some of his stories are not strictly accurate, the book records some great book tales and vignettes of numerous important dealers and collectors. Time also compels me to pass over such great dealers as Charles Heartman, Ernest Wesson of Midland Rare Books, Peter Decker, the late John Jenkins a full lecture in himself and the coiner of "U.S.iana," Wright Howes, whose bibliography of that name is the bible of dealers in the nittygritty of this nation's history. All of these booksellers shared a common love of their topic, whether on the grandest level of early discovery, or the most obscure of local history. Like them, I find it a field where one can learn something new every day. In that spirit of discovery, I'll close by passing on to you a fine piece of advice that Howes gave to a friend of mine, then just entering the Americana book business: "Young man," Howes said, "There's one way you can't go wrong in this business. Look around for a few years, learn the obvious titles, and then never buy a book you've seen before."