August 30, 2007

Fine Press Books

I’ve always been especially fond of “fine press” books. These are books that strive to highlight the press’ bookmaking talents and artistic visions. Usually hand bound and made of the finest leathers, cloths, and paper, they can be considered the ultimate examples of “bookmaking as art.”

Such books are often found in the literary world but are, IMO, somewhat uncommon in the Civil War non-fiction world. Why? My theory is that fine press books highlight the book’s production values as its primary selling point with the actual words and content being a secondary concern. With ACW books, the “data” is everything. Note that I do not count the leather bound books produced by Easton Press as fine press productions. Though nicely done, they are machine-made and produced in relatively large quantities.

There have been a few however that meet the description that I can readily think of. In fact, my most recent project, a collection of two brothers’ previously unpublished ACW letters titled Give My Love to All Our Folks, is a 100-copy fine press production that I consider my offering to this type of art. Most of the sales so far have been to fine press collectors rather than Civil War readers, which helps to solidify my opinion as to why there's a lack of fine press books in the Civil War world.

I also own a copy of Journey to Pleasant Hill: The Civil War Letters of Captain Elijah Petty. This is a beautiful, 2-volume leather bound set that is housed in a matching slipcase. (pics forthcoming) Published in 1982 by the University of Texas’ Institute of Texan Cultures, the work measures 8 ½ x 11,” is printed in three colors, and was limited to 500 copies. It generally is priced in the $125-150 range. And of course, the Broadfoot book discussed in an earlier post would also be considered a fine press production.

I’m sure there are others out there. Let me know what I missed!

August 28, 2007

Carman's Maryland Campaign... continued.

Hat tip to Kim Guinta of Routledge Publishers who responded to my question regarding the book's initial print run. She writes, "the book is definitely geared toward library collections and will have a shorter first printing than many of our course-adoption titles, but anyone who is interested in the Civil War and in Carman will want to have a copy as reference. Right now, we're anticipating a first printing between 500 copies and 1,000, but that hasn't been set at the moment, because the book is still in production, and depending on advance orders and that sort of thing, the final first printing number could increase or decrease. As I'm sure you're aware, with today's digital printing, it is easier to reprint than ever, so the first printing may be shorter than it would otherwise be, because of quick turn around with the reprints."

Seasoned collectors know that digital and print-on-demand technology can be a sore spot for it makes it much harder to track print runs, number of printings, etc.

August 24, 2007

At Long Last, Carman's Maryland Campaign to be Published

Ezra A. Carman's legendary 1890's unpublished manuscript on the 1862 Maryland Campaign is about to be published for the first time ever. According to Civil War Librarian, the book will run over 400,000 words and will be produced in a larger trim size in order to accommodate the volume of text. A September release by the UK's Routledge Publishers is now planned.

Armchair generals should note that the work will NOT contain maps. The Librarian writes that this "may sound odd for a work of this type, but there is an explanation. At the time Carman was compiling this massive history of the campaign, he was also working on a complete Atlas of the battle, covering the entire action in 14 large plates (the same size as the maps in the OR Atlas). Unlike his history, Carman's Atlas was published by the U.S. government (in 1904, with a second edition in 1908), though it's now long out of print and very difficult to find outside of major research libraries." The maps will be available online, however.

The book is not inexpensive. The list price will be a whopping $95, so expect a VERY limited first edition print run aimed primarily at the library market. Collectors take note.
This will be a strategic and tactical history not to be missed. It should be on all ACW students' bookshelves, assuming that the price is not an obstacle. According to Ted Alexander, Chief Historian at the Antietam National Battlefield, "The Ezra Carman manuscript is the definitive study of that bloody September day in 1862. By editing it, Joseph Pierro has done a tremendous service to the field of Civil War studies. Indeed, this work is one of the most important Civil War publications to come out in decades."

Blog for Book Collectors

I've discovered a blog that may be of interest to anyone who loves and collects used books, regardless of topic or genre. It is Fine Books and Collections. Check it out.

August 23, 2007

Rare ACW Books and the Internet

Anyone who has been collecting rare or first edition books for more than a decade will fully understand the tremendous impact that the internet has had on used book prices in general. Old Civil War books have certainly not been immune to this Economics 101 certainty. To fully understand, a brief history lesson is in order.

Prior to the advent of the internet and search engines like ABE or, collectible books were bought and sold primarily by dealers in the secondary market who advertised their wares through paper catalogs and exhibited at book fairs. They maintained customer mailing lists and were often closely in tune to the wants of their customers. Many books exchanged hands without ever being listed for sale. As a book buyer looking for a particularly obscure or rare title, you had to hope that the several dealers whose mailing list you were on came up with a copy or if you got lucky, you might find it at a book fair. There was a tremendous sense of loyalty between booksellers and their clients. Even so, every now and then you might even stumble across a very desirable book in a secondhand shop or flea market whose owner clearly had no idea what was on his/her shelf. Of course, if you did not buy from these dealers after receiving four or five catalogs, you could be unceremoniously dropped from the mailing list. Let me stress that this business model is still in active use today.

The point here is that while the wanted titles were out there, they were hard to find. In other words, supply was relatively limited or seemed that way while demand was constant. This tended to inflate prices of collectible titles as well as those newer books that seemed to be rare or hard to come by.

Everything started to change in the early to mid 90’s with the advent of the internet book search sites such as those mentioned above, ABE in particular. These new sites served as a collective, common area marketplace for booksellers from which they could now upload hundreds, if not thousands of titles in an economical manner. Their wares were now advertised to possibly millions of potential customers around the world whereas before, only the several hundred on their mailing list. From the buyer’s perspective, it was if he had stumbled into the biggest bazaar ever seen. All of a sudden, that previously hidden supply was unlocked. In reality, of course, the books existed in a finite sense as they always had but were now available to buyers in quantities that technology had previously not allowed. In other words, perceived supply had increased dramatically, while demand remained at a reasonable constant.

The results were predictable. Prices dropped and in some cases plummeted for those titles whose supply was more than enough supply to meet demand. This was especially the case for newer books that were usually less than twenty years old. As one bookseller told me about six years ago, “The internet was a great place to sell that $15 book when it first started, but now I don’t even list books that are priced less than $50.” Why? Because the potential buyer for that cheap book will often find 100 copies or more for sale. All things being equal, it then became mostly a game of price. Books became a commodity where price was the only factor. Even buyers of books once deemed to be scarce could now readily choose from between five to ten copies of a particular title from sellers all over the word.

For example, a quick search for William T. Sherman’s 2-volume Memoirs in the first edition reveals 8 offerings, ranging in price from $40 for an average condition copy of just volume 1 to $7900 for a set signed by Sherman that also includes a 3-page letter from Sherman to Major Oswald Ernst dated November 29th, 1883. (see picture) If you’re looking for just a sturdy hardcover reprint, then there are over 400 copies to choose from.

Though not as common, the new internet-based sales model also revealed the flipside of the scenario just described. In cases where rare books were truly rare* as evidenced by a lack of supply, prices have skyrocketed. This has especially been the case for high spots of twentieth-century literature but I’m sure it also applies to ACW titles.

So I’d say the bottom line here is that overall, the internet has pushed used book values in general and ACW titles in particular significantly downward. This is good news if you are a collector, but it won’t be good news when it comes time to sell your beloved collection. For the average used bookseller however, it’s dismal news, as evidenced by the slow but steady erosion of used book stores open to the general public. But that’s a post for another day…

* - A rare book used to be defined as one where a copy cannot be found for sale, regardless of price, within a six-month timeframe.

August 22, 2007

Florida and the Civil War

The Civil War in Florida has always been my first love in ACW studies, as illustrated by my first book, Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide. Even as a complete novice working on his first project, it didn't take long for me to realize that very few historical works existed which focused on "the smallest tadpole in the pool of secession."

Those that did were exceedingly rare and expensive in the first edition. Two of the best known are Dickison and His Men by Mary Elizabeth Dickison and The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida by William Watson Davis.

In the case of Dickison, the book tells the tale of Captain John J. Dickison and his 2nd Florida Cavalry, CSA. The book's by-line states that it was written by the subject's wife, though modern historians tend to agree that Dickison, known to the Yankees as "Dixie" or the "Swamp Fox," was at the helm. According to one Florida newspaper, he was without a doubt the most conspicuous soldier Florida sent into the war. His command never left Florida and served that state in a fashion similar to Mosby's Rangers in northern Virginia.

The first edition was published in 1890 by the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky and featured brown cloth boards stamped in gilt measuring 5 ½" x 8 1/2." Civil War Books described the work as "a poorly organized but splendid picture of the almost unknown Florida campaigns." Of particular interest are twelve original woodcuts that have become standard fare when seeking illustrations on the war in Florida.

The book can be had if one is willing to pay the price. Currently, first editions in collector's condition will fetch in the $500 range. A reasonable alternative is a facsimile edition published in 1984 by the San Marco Bookstore of Jacksonville, Florida.

Davis's work is considered the first scholarly look at Florida's role in the war though it's also generally deemed to be now outdated. Published in 1913 by Columbia University, this fat tome clocks in at a hefty 769 pages. Its size makes finding a copy in fine condition a difficult task plus the book's paper is of poor quality. My copy is bound in brown cloth with gilt lettering on the spine though I've also seen first editions bound in dark green cloth.

It is also a pricey book. Be prepared to pay $500 to $750 for a fine first edition, though like the Dickison book, a modern facsimile reprint exists which can generally be had for under $100.

August 20, 2007

And You Thought ACW Books Were Expensive...

The Wall Street Journal has an article on some new, very pricey books.

August 16, 2007

1491 Days in the Confederate Army

William W. Heartsill's Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army: A Journal Kept by W. W. Heartsill for Four Years, One Month, and One Day is one heck of a collectible book. It's original appearance was in 1876 and consisted of only 100 copies hand-printed by its author on an "Octavo Novelty Press."

This day-to-day account of a Texas private who served both in the Trans-Mississippi Department and the Army of Tennessee was originally hand-printed by Heartsill from his war diary with photos of his old company pasted in. According to the classic In Tall Cotton, “This book would be of considerable interest because of the homespun way in which it was produced even if it were devoid of any other virtues. It is, however, a good narrative in its own right.”

According to Civil War News however, students of military campaigns will be disappointed. "Heartsill's unit, the W.P. Lane Rangers of Texas, only participated in one engagement and that resulted in the capture of the entire command. Heartsill did, however, fight in the Battle of Chickamauga and his account of that bloody battle is probably the most stirring section of the book. The true value of 1491 Days is Heartsill's treatment of everyday life in the Confederacy, particularly west of the Mississippi River."

Heartsill's first printing is now all but impossible to obtain as only 13 copies are known to exist, however a 1000-copy hardcover reprint was prepared by McCowat-Mercer Press in 1954 and then reprinted again by Broadfoot Publishers in the late 1980's. Both of those editions have asking prices at or above $100.

The real gem however, is the deluxe, numbered edition that Broadfoot also prepared. Limited to only 150 slipcased copies, this gorgeous production measures 8 1/2" x 11" and is handbound using select goatskin imported from England and fine Italian bookcloth. The binding was designed and crafted by Michael A. Hogle and also features a cover stamped in gold. Of further value is that laid into each volume is a sheet from the original manuscript, with both sides written entirely in Heartsill's hand. Additional illustrations abound including an oversized, tipped-in photograph of Captain Sam Richardson in his leopard skin britches, plus three Civil War maps by Heartsill never before published. All original photographs have been reproduced. The book has been printed on Mohawk Superfine 70 lb. white-smooth acid-free paper with the type entirely reset and enlarged. Truly a fine example of bookmaking as art!

According to the Broadfoot website, less than 40 copies remain and are still available at their original price of $750.

August 15, 2007

Neale Books

Note - This post originally appeared at my website on August 6.

One of a publisher’s ultimate dreams has to be the creation of a line of books that one day are actively sought by bibliophiles based solely on the imprint he/she created, if for no other reason. Few small publishing houses achieve such immortality. In the realm of dark fantasy, Arkham House comes readily to mind while the Limited Editions Club, among others, is well-known in the literary world.

Most seasoned Civil War book collectors will immediately recognize the term “Neale Book.” Between the years 1896 and 1920, Walter Neale published close to 570 books, including ninety that are among the most recognizable and desirable Civil War books in existence. Such cornerstone classics include Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer by Longstreet’s chief of staff, Gen. Moxley Sorrell; The War Between the Union and Confederacy by William C. Oates, the colonel of the 15th Alabama, and One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry by John Worsham. Pictured above is the title page and frontis for Oliver Norton's Attack and Defense of Little Round Top. All of these early 20th-century titles as well as numerous others routinely command asking prices at $400 and higher for first edition copies in premium condition. If the oh-so rare dust jacket is also present and untorn, look for the price to soar closer to $1000.

Neale was staunchly sympathetic to Confederate beliefs as illustrated by the fact that his Confederate titles outnumbered Union ones by a five to one margin. To Neale, the war was “one of romance” and that his Confederate titles had helped to “clarify the atmosphere.” Had it not been for his efforts, the South’s views and military accomplishments would “have had but a small part in recorded history.” Even those lesser fiction and poetry titles have retained some intrinsic, collectable value simply by being recognized as a Neale book. Any Civil War library worth its salt will surely house titles that were originally published under The Neale Company imprint.

Such was the impact of this publishing house that historian Robert K. Krick published a bibliography of the Neale titles in 1977. Simply titled Neale Books: An Annotated Bibliography, the author lists all known Neale books in alphabetical order by author. Full bibliographic particulars are given as well as a brief synopsis of each title. Reproductions of title pages from key volumes are also liberally sprinkled throughout the text. This title is still available from Morningside House at the published price of $25 and is a must-have reference work for any Civil War book collector.

August 13, 2007

The $3, 15-Minute P.O.D. Book

(Originally posted on August 8 at my old blog site)

The New York Times has run a story about a new device that will create a print-on-demand book in 15 minutes and at a cost of about 3 bucks. Let's call it the latte book machine.

“But think what this means,” said Dane Neller, a partner of On Demand Books. “It’s not just bookstores and libraries. This is small. It could go into a Kinko’s, or a coffee shop, or a hotel or a hospital or a cruise ship."

AOL News noted in a follow up article how "this machine would be particularly useful for rare books, out-of-print titles and limited-run novels."

Such devices will only further expand the availability of data once lost to rare books, with a side effect being the further depression of prices those titles once commanded. I also predict it will further weaken the market for well-crafted hardcover reprints of ACW classics such as those created by Morningside.

August 11, 2007

New Limited Hardcover

Hat tip to Dimitri Rotov for pointing out a new book that will, for the first time ever, present in English scores of letters and commentary from Welsh soldiers who served in the ACW and wrote home in their native tongue.

This one sounds similar in concept to the recent Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home. The Welsh book is pricey. $35 suggested retail for a paperback while a small print run hardcover edition is also available at $85 for those collectors so inclined.

August 1, 2007


We're still in the draft and trial stage, but ultimately my blog at will be moved into this format. Stay tuned.