A Letter from America XXXV: The Jay Snider Collection (July)

From the Rare Book Review

Single-owner book auctions are greeted eagerly by the book market, especially if the collector selling was well-known to the book world as a serious buyer. It is exciting for the Americana community, then, to contemplate the upcoming sale of Jay T. Snider at Christie’s New York on June 21. Snider has been a significant player in the field for over two decades Within the boundaries of the history of colonial North America and the United States, his interests have been catholic, and he has pursued his collecting with vigor, including duking it out for some of the key lots in the Dr. Frank Siebert sale at Sotheby’s six years ago. Now these books, and much more, will come to market.

Not that Snider is leaving the Americana market – far from it. His central interest has always been the history and imprints of his native Philadelphia, and all of that material he is retaining and continuing to build on. The sale of the rest of his collection is a move to focus and define more sharply his core collection and make it possible to develop it more comprehensively. In that sense his sale is more like one of the dispersals of the famed Americana collector Hershel V. Jones, who sold several great groups of books in his collecting career as he developed the library described in his Adventures in Americana. This sale will provide many other collectors a chance to build in their core areas, from early New England to the Plains Indians War.

Auctions like this don’t come along very often. In Americana, the gold standard is the sale of the collection of Thomas W. Streeter, sold at Parke-Bernet between 1966 and 1969, and well-remembered because its seven volume catalogue is a standard reference today. Since then there have only been a handful of great sales devoted to printed Americana; the most notable auctions in the field have been oriented to manuscripts with only a scattering of books, such as the Forbes Sale in 2002. The most recent comparable sales are those of Siebert, in 1999, and Laird Park in 2000. The legendary Siebert collection, tightly focused on works relating to American Indians, was a booming success. The Park sale was also strong. That was five years and a recession ago, and the market of today looks as hungry as for great material as ever.

The main focus of the Snider books is the frontier, whether that of colonial times or of the final Indian Wars in the West, but there are very strong sub-sections on the politics and events of the American Revolution, the founding of the nation, and the Civil War, as well as a remarkable run of early American almanacs. Colonial high-spots include a copy of John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia associated with the Calvert family, the Proprietors of Maryland, the first history of New England printed there, Morton’s New England’s Memoriall, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1669, and the original minute books of the first Lords Proprietors of New Jersey, with an amazing group of 17th-century manuscript maps of that colony. There are also two of the gems of the Siebert collection, a presentation copy of Capt. Thomas Church’s vivid account, Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip’s War (Boston, 1716), and Peter Collinson’s copy of Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations (New York, 1727). This group illustrates Snider’s penchant for copies with associations or added features, to be found throughout the collection.

In the Revolutionary era, there are two remarkable sammelbands of pamphlets. One contains both the second edition of Common Sense, issued a few weeks after the all-but-impossible original, and the only contemporary account of the doings of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Luther Martin’s The Genuine Information (Philadelphia, 1788). The other contains the other most important political tract of 1776, John Adams' Thoughts on Government ( Philadelphia, 1776). There is also one of the original muster rolls of the Concord militia for the spring of 1775, just before Lexington and Concord.

Western Americana is one of the primary areas in the sale, with many of the great rarities, from Lewis and Clark in original calf to Stephen Austin’s Esposicion, (Mexico City, 1835) to Zenas Leonard’s fur trade narrative (Clearfield, Pa., 1839) to a group of remarkably rare guides to the Colorado gold rush of 1859.  There are also some of the great illustrated works; the only truly complete copy of J.O. Lewis’ Aboriginal Portfolio, Hayden and Moran’s Yellowstone Park Portfolio, and the first issue of George Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. All told, it should be an exciting occasion.

                                                                 – William S. Reese