September 7, 2007

In Tall Cotton

I'd venture that anyone who avidly collects and reads Civil War books has probably heard of the legendary In Tall Cotton. Whether they actually own a true first edition is another matter for such copies routinely command over $500.

Written by noted Confederate historian and scholar, Richard Barksdale Harwell, this reference book was published in 1978 by the Jenkins Book Publishing Company of Austin, Texas in a limited edition of only 500 copies (don't quote me on that number). It was subtitled as "The 200 Most Important Confederate Books for the Reader, Researcher and Collector." For the reader and researcher, Harwell lists each book with full bibliographic particulars, a brief description and commentary as to the book's contents and importance, as well as other reference books where the particular title is cited. An introduction, full index, and numerous illustrations of title pages round out the book. As for the collector part, anyone attempting to build a first edition library of In Tall Cotton titles would have to have very deep pockets indeed.

Harwell passed away in 1988 and if my memory serves correct, there were a number of legal reasons why the book was never reprinted. Such impediments, if any, were clearly overcome, for publisher and bookseller Tom Broadfoot has once again come to the rescue by publishing in 2006 a facsimile reprint of the book limited to only 1000 numbered copies. Of special note to collectors is that the first 50 copies are numbered and have an original page from an 1863 Confederate imprint tipped in. These copies are priced at $200 with the remaining 950 trade copies priced at $50.

Of additional value to collectors is a brand new book entitled In Taller Cotton, which is obviously a sequel to Harwell's earlier work. With this new book, authors Gary Gallagher, Nathaniel Hughes, and Robert Krick bring together the 200 best and most important Confederate books since 1978, the year the original In Tall Cotton was published. Like its predecessor, In Taller Cotton's first 50 copies are considered a limited edition, being numbered and signed by all three authors. $160 of the purchase price is deemed a tax-deductible contribution to the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. Broadfoot's web page has more info.

Taken as a whole, these two volumes provide valuable assistance and insight into building a significant Confederate library. Reference books and bibliographies are the cornerstone of any type of book collection. These two should be considered indispensable to the Civil War bibliophile.

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