December 11, 2009

The Library of Lieutenant Colonel John Page Nicholson

I love reference bibliographies because, as both an author and book collector, they always provide the bibliographic answers that I'm seeking. As I've opined on more than one occasion, "books about books" are at the core of any bibliophile's collection or author's working library.

Thus it's always a pleasant surprise when I discover one that had previously slipped under the radar - and that's exactly what happened this past week when I learned of the Catalogue of the Library of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel John Page Nicholson: Relating to the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866.

This exceedingly rare book was privately printed in 1914 and limited to only 300 numbered copies. To the best of my knowledge, it can be considered one of the grandfathers of all Civil War bibliographies as it lists over 7,500 titles, all published prior to 1900. Newman and Long described the book in their A Basic Civil War Library: A Bibliographic Essay as "The most comprehensive bibliography of Civil War books before 1900." Nicholson did even more than that. He indicated the number of copies printed and listed the many variant printings in his "catalogue," which runs to a very hefty 1022 pages.

In addition, a review of the book in the April 1915 issue of Pennsylvania magazine stated, "No more important or valuable contribution to the literature of the War of the Rebellion has been published, than the catalogue of the library of Colonel Nicholson, comprising books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and excerpts, which are serviceably and handsomely bound." Most of Nicholson's books ultimately went to the Henry E. Huntington Library in 1927.

During the Civil War John Page Nicholson served as regimental quartermaster with the 28th Pennsylvania throughout Sherman's March to the Sea. He began building his great library as soon as the war ended in 1865 with much of his success in creating so vast a library being due to the ceaseless assistance of his many soldier friends. Though almost a century old, this work clearly retains great value as it contains information on limited printings not found elsewhere.

Fortunately for those of us of more modest means, the book was reprinted in 1995 by Martino Publishing of Mansfield, Connecticut in a very limited edition of only 150 copies (pictured). Though it appears to be sold out at the publisher, copies are available in the secondary market. For those interested only in the data, it is also available online at Google Print.

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