A Letter from America VII: New Americana State Bibliographies ( August/Sept.)

From the Antiquarian Book Review

Away back when in 1942, the great collector Thomas W. Streeter, then President of the Bibliographical Society of America, gave an address to that organization on what he called "North American Regional Bibliographies". In practical terms, what Streeter described and advocated were annotated bibliographies focused on specific States of the United States . Himself at work on what became the classic of the genre, the five volume Bibliography of Texas 1795-1845, as well as being the greatest Americana collector of his era, Streeter certainly knew whereof his spoke. But he engaged in some serious wishful thinking. Fresh from the era of WPA-sponsored state imprint bibliographies, he envisioned national funding for expanded, annotated works to build on the privately organized efforts which had laid the foundations of the field. Not surprisingly, everybody in the field agreed with the Streeter except the master contrarian bookseller Charles F. Heartman, who promptly wrote a pamphlet attacking Streeter’s ideas- just the kind of client relations some members of the trade find so refreshing. Sadly, little came of the Streeter vision. The Federal government’s enthusiasm for Americana bibliography pretty much died with the WPA, and the advance of such tools has been sporadic at best over the last half century. In the last decade, however, four states have received superb coverage from determined individuals working in their areas of personal enthusiasm, and their work has provided some new energy in the genre spelled out by Streeter. The first of these is Joseph Felcone, a Princeton , New Jersey bookseller who has single-handedly created much of what there is in New Jersey bibliography. His primary work is the two volume catalogue of his own collection, 1698-1860, self-published in 1992 and 1996, and listing 1449 items in alphabetical order. Felcone provides detailed collations of his copies with specific descriptions of their physical format and references to other bibliographies. The collection blends works about New Jersey published elsewhere with imprints. Most useful are Felcone’s extensive notes on authors and content. Felcone eventually plans a third volume volume with addenda and advancing the terminal date, and is also at work on a highly detailed bibliography of 18th century New Jersey imprints. All published works can be ordered from him at P.O. Box 366 , Princeton , N.J. 08542 (felcone@felcone.com.) A very different approach has been taken by James and Lana Servies, who have toiled for several decades now on their Bibliography of Florida. Three volumes of this project have been published so far, arranged chronologically from 1507 to 1899, and two more volumes are projected to take the entries up to 1920. The goal of the Servies’ is to be as comprehensive as possible, including individual maps and works with quite brief mentions of anything in Florida . They provide pagination and notes maps and plates in a booksellerly style, with relatively brief but often extremely useful comments on content, other references, locations, and editions. So far there are 12488 entries, extensively indexed. The Servies’ work is particularly useful because there was virtually nothing for Florida before this work. They, too, are self-published, and the three volumes can be obtained from King & Queen Books at P.O. Box 15062 , Pensacola , FL , 32514 (kqbooks@pcola.gulf.net.) If New Jersey and Florida have been largely ignored by bibliographers until now, the opposite is true of California , where there is a tradition of collection and reference works going back to Hubert Howe Bancroft in the late nineteenth century. That there is still plenty to do in even well-covered states is amply illustrated by the magnificent work of Gary F. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush  A Descriptive Bibliography...1848-1853. This narrow slice of time is, of course, the stuff of which American legends are made. Kurutz covers all contemporary original narratives of participants published up to 1994, listing 705 separate books and giving the details of all later editions of each as well. This book is really a model of what historical bibliography should be. Kurutz gives collation by both signature and pagination, as well as dimensions. Titles are transcribed by line, typical bindings described, and dimensions of such features as folding maps noted. There are detailed listings of all of the standard references, as well as extensive locations of copies. Every entry has a note about the contents and the career of the author as it relates to the Gold Rush. A bibliography such as this alters a whole genre for collectors and dealers alike. Unfortunately the publisher, the Book Club of California, could not imagine that such a book would have a wide demand, and only a thousand copies were printed. It is now out of print and has already moved up in price- at least proving that if you build a better bibliography they will come. The most recent addition to American regional bibliography is the magnificent Hawaiian National Bibliography 1780-1900, compiled by David W. Forbes, and co-published by the University of Hawaii Press and the redoubtable Australian rare book dealers Hordern House. As with Servies, it is a work slated to appear in five volumes of which three have come out. The rate of actual publication has been much faster though, with successive volumes appearing in 1999, 2000, and 2002, and with the last two decades expected shortly. The three volumes through 1880 list 3344 works, with separate entries given for successive editions. Arrangement is chronological. Collation is by pagination, a full listing of other references is provided, and there are ample locations. Forbes’ notes are extensive, and he has identified many books with Hawaiian content not necessarily thought of in that genre. He has also included imprints, comprehensively at first, through 1850, and then more selectively as printing proliferated. This approach (also followed by Felcone and Servies) may not suit formal bibliographers, but it sure makes sense for the working bookseller and historian. Once again, the Forbes project fills a major hole in the reference shelf. It is entirely in print and can be had from Hordern House, 77 Victoria St. , Potts Point, Sydney NSW 2011, Australia (books@hordern.com.) You have all been good and quiet while listening to this lecture and so, as a special treat, my next column will be entirely devoted to gossip.

- William Reese