September 30, 2007

"Cleaning Up the Muss" - New Regional Publication

I've always been especially interested in Civil War books published by local museums or historical societies. The hardcovers for these regional publications tend to be well made, the print runs rather low, though the quality of the material inside can sometimes be sketchy. Generally, the potential appeal to buyers is more localized than national. Every now and then however, you can hit a home run as to collectability and first-rate material. Local letters and diaries usualy fall into this type of category.

It appears that the Hudson, MI museum is now producing a volume like I've just described. It's titled Cleaning Up the Muss [sic] and is a small collection of letters from the surgeon of the 4th Michigan Infantry who I assume was from the area. A full on-line article can be found here. I've lived in Michigan for several years and have to admit I didn't know where Hudson is. It's located in the far SE corner of the state possibly closer to Toledo, OH than Detroit. The book is $20 softcover and $40 hardcover and can be obtained from the museum or library. Shipping costs are $2.50. Call (517) 448–8858 for more information. Proceeds from the book support the museum.

September 28, 2007

"All for the Union"

I’m having some new bookcases built into my living room and as I was boxing up the books, I came across my copy of All for the Union, the famous Civil War diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. If you’ve seen Ken Burns’ The Civil War, then you certainly know who Rhodes is, even if the name no longer rings a bell. His journal was the most oft-quoted Union soldier diary during that famous TV miniseries. According to The Civil War website, Rhodes was “just 19 when he joined the [2nd] Rhode Island volunteers in 1861. Rhodes had little idea of what to expect from the war or the Union army. His diary of the war years provides candid, fascinating impressions of the slaughter and tragedy he encountered." IMO, it is one of the most readable and enjoyable wartime journals I’ve encountered. The Burns’ series certainly helped turn the Rhodes journal into a healthy seller.

All for the Union was packaged in hardcover and paperback by Orion Books in 1991 with prominent tie-in references on the jacket to the Burns’ series. In fact, many collectors and booksellers mistakenly thought they were acquiring a first edition. Some booksellers even advertise the Orion hardcover as a first edition to this day. The truth is that the true first printing appeared 6 years earlier and was published by the small firm of Andrew Mowbray Inc. of Lincoln, RI. (see image) That had to be a tiny print run for copies in premium condition are difficult to find. To illustrate, ABE currently lists 192 copies of the book for sale, however only 5 are described as being published by Mowbray and of those, only 2 are the hardcover first edition eagerly sought after by collectors.

September 25, 2007

A (mini) Interview with Tom Broadfoot

I recently had the opportunity to pose a few questions regarding the current state of Civil War book collecting to Tom Broadfoot, who, for those who may not know, is and has been one of the leading Civil War booksellers and publishers in the country. If you're not familiar with his website, you need to check it out here.

PT: You mentioned once to me that the collecting of 19th century Civil War first editions was a hobby in decline. Generally, older collectors were dying off and/or selling their collections and were not being replaced by younger collectors who had probably grown up in the new digital/video age. Do you still feel this way?
TB: Yes, yes, yes.
PT: Can you describe your typical collector? i.e. gender, age, income, southern, or northern? etc. Are most of your customers just interested in the “data” a book may contain?
TB: Male, 55-60, upper income bracket, Southern, ½ collecting data, ½ collecting collectibles.
PT: The Ken Burns miniseries in the early 90s’s along with Ted Turner’s Gettysburg seemed to generate a marked increase in interest in the Civil War. Do you think the upcoming sesquicentennial will have a similar impact in general, and any impact on Civil War book collecting in particular?
TB: Won’t have any impact on collecting, will have an impact on sales of new Civil War books at Barnes & Noble, etc.
PT: Are there any types of CW books that are especially in demand, or “hot?”
TB: Rare Confederate titles.

I, for one thoroughly enjoy my collecting passion (vice?) and hope it extends well into my golden years. (My wife will beg to differ) Nevertheless, his observations do not bode well for our hobby. I wonder if this situation extends into all fields or genres of book collecting? To take it a step further, are books as we've come to know them slowly going the way of the 78 rpm or LP record?

September 22, 2007

Easton Press

Reading an online story the other day about Doris Kearns Goodwin prompted me to think about her latest book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. From a first edition collector's perspective, it will probably never command a large premium because its first print run was a bazillion copies, or so it seemed. The Easton Press however, did produce a lovely signed edition as part of their Signed First Editions series. For those who may not know, the Easton Press primarily produces full leatherbound editons of past classic works. They usually feature silk endpapers, a silk ribbon pagemarker, gilt edges, and perhaps a full-color illustration or two not found in the publisher's original trade edition. They certainly look good sitting on the shelf, but from a purist collector's perspective, these books are essentially nothing more than fancy reprints of past works.

As you can see with this link, they do produce a number of gorgeous Civil War titles. They are however, not inexpensive, with retail prices that can run anywhere from $75 to several hundred dollars for sets. Because these titles are often reprinted by Easton Press, they rarely sell for more than their asking price in the used market. They are certainly not a very good investment. There's an old agage in collecting that says if you collect for love rather than investment potential, you'll probably never lose any money. That's good advice, yet there is a series of Easton Press books that do have strong investment potential. This would be their Signed First Editions series of which they have science fiction, literary, and non-fiction branches. It is this last one in which the Goodwin book falls. In all cases, the books are designed as I've described above, though the print run is limited to somewhere in the 1000 to 2000-copy range. Copies that I own also contain a limitation page that staes the number of copies produced. Of course, each volume is also signed by the author which only adds to its collectibility. This version of Team of Rivals is long sold out from the Easton Press and is now selling in the $250 range.

Another example is Shelby Foote's classic 3-volume narrative of the Civil War. Easton published a 3-volume signed set years ago and which now goes for well over $1000 when offered. Mr. Foote was notoriously thrifty with his signature so that fact has helped to make this set a much sought after Civil War item. Go check 'em out. If you're looking to build a library of classic Civil War titles and have the eye and wallet to go the leatherbound route, then you may want to consider the Easton Press. Other than their signed editions though, it's doubtful you will recoup the original price.

September 17, 2007

Antietam & Lee's Lost Orders

As anyone reading this blog will know, today is the 145th anniversary of the battle of Antietam. After reading an online article that discussed the enduring lure of the "lost dispatch," I realized I had an interesting piece of curiosa in my collection that tied right in to the topic.

Known as Lee's Lost Orders, it is a beautifully done facsimile reproduction of Lee's original Special Orders No. 191, as handwritten by his adjutant, R. H. Chilton, dated September 9, 1862. The 8 1/2 x 11", 2-sided original is now part of the George McClellan Papers at the Library of Congress. This facsimile was prepared as part of the "Treasures of the Library of Congress" program and is accompanied by a 7-page brochure that profiles the story of the "Lost Orders." All paperwork is then housed in a specially-made traycase that, externally, gives the appearance of a book when sitting on a bookshelf. The traycase is protected by a fragile paper wrapper.

I recall that I did not pay much for this item and bought it as nothing more than a souvenir. There is one copy for sale on ABE with an asking price of $275. In my opinion, that's way over the top...

September 13, 2007

eBay and Civil War Books

Of all of the new avenues that have opened up for booksellers (and collectors) in the last decade, eBay has to be near the top of the list for ease of entry. As I discussed in an earlier post on internet bookselling, this virtual auction house has had a significant impact on both booksellers and collectors. I know that I have bought and sold books by the hundreds over the past seven or eight years via this channel. Frankly, and I fear that traditional brick and mortar booksellers may not like to read this, but the vast majority of my used book buying purchases are now online via eBay or ABE. New books are also sold there as bookstores and small publishers realize that it’s just another channel of distribution. It’s also convenient plus the buyer usually gets to (or should) see a picture of the item when buying on eBay. Based on what I wrote in that prior post regarding supply and demand, eBay is in my opinion an excellent way to acquire desirable first editions at wholesale prices.

That said, eBay is really the “wild, wild west” of bookselling. Caveat emptor rules the day. Any idiot with a shelf of books, a computer, and an internet connection can now call himself a bookseller, though he/she may have little knowledge or understanding of grading concepts or first edition status. In fact, just last week I returned a book club edition in fair condition of a Civil War title that was listed as a “fine” first edition and which the seller had reconfirmed was a first! Yet, it was not. My advice is to make sure the seller has ample positive feedback and to get pictures of the item in question!

Despite the pitfalls, it can be an excellent source for acquiring rare books. As to Civil War books, there are thousands upon thousands up for auction at any time, from true rarities to stuff you'd never pay $1 for. As I write this post, I see that the current highest bid item ($455 with 15 bids) is a first edition of Grant's Memoirs in the scarce deluxe leather binding (see above pic). On a less common note, an 1865 first edition of Life and Death in Rebel Prisons by Robert Kellogg, who was the seargent major of the 16th Connecticut is being actively sought with 26 bids and a current price of $135. If you are a Civil War book collector and have never explored eBay, I urge you to check it out.

September 11, 2007

You Learn Something New Every Day...

Here's one I've never heard of. has posted an online interview with David Butterfield, the winner of their 2007 "Collegiate Book Collecting Championship," after he took top prize in the Rose Book Collecting contest sponsored by Cambridge University.

They sure didn't have stuff like this when I was in college...

September 10, 2007

Antietam Books

The 145th anniversary of the battle of Antietam (aka Sharpsburg) is one week away. That anniversary coupled with the forthcoming publication of Ezra Carman’s legendary Maryland Campaign manuscript inspired me to discuss books on that battle. The now-standard work on Antietam would be Stephen Sears’ Landscape Turned Red, published 23 years ago and easily obtainable in the first edition. Another modern and well-written study is James Murfin’s The Gleam of Bayonets, published by Thomas Yoseloff in 1965. It's a pricier book than Sears’ and in my opinion, is difficult to find in collector’s condition, especially the easily rubbed, black dust jacket. I know I’m still searching for that elusive copy in premium condition! Note that this title has also been republished by the Easton Press in their traditional full leather and gilt edged format.

As for 19th and early 20th-century titles, there were plenty of articles but surprisingly few books written on "America's singlest bloody day," as compared to the 3-day engagement at Gettysburg. By far the most popular and easiest to obtain is The Antietam and Fredericksburg, written by Francis Winthrop Palfrey, who was also the colonel of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry. It was published in 1882 as part of Scribners' matching 16-volume "Campaigns of the Civil War" series, which was then reissued in 1885 in a special half-leather "Subscription Edition." Critically, it has been described as “..somewhat stilted in style but is still a generally reliable story of the l862 Maryland and Fredericksburg campaigns.” The clothbound first edition is reasonably common with copies in nice condition going for around $30-40.

One other oddity is The North and South at Antietam and Gettysburg by William Spear. This was a 171-page hardcover that was privately published by the author in 1908. I've never seen a copy though it looks like there a couple of beat copies currently for sale on ABE. Can anyone out there fill me in on this title?

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.

September 4, 2007

Rare Civil War Books & the Internet, pt. 2

I just discovered this online article and though it was written in November 2005, the general sentiment and concerns remain valid. Of special note was the comment re collectible Civil War books:

"For example, a collection of Civil War books might have been worth $200,000 some 10 years ago. Now because of the Internet, the collector would be lucky to get one-fifth of that," Baldwin said. "People find some books in their attic, do not know the value of the volumes and put the collection online. Without professional appraisals, the collections are undervalued, which drives the price down for everyone," he said.

Not just ACW books, but titles in every possible subject and genre across the board. As discussed in an earlier post, supply has opened up for every collector, thereby pushing down price.

September 3, 2007

Most Popular O.P. Civil War Book has recently published its fifth annual list of the most sought after out-of-print tiles. A Civil War book comes in at #4 in the top ten list for history books. It's The Civil War in Pictures, edited by Fletcher Pratt.

It's extremely easy to find if you're just looking for a reading (or viewing) copy. ABE alone lists 316 copies for sale ranging price from $1 to $99.95 for a way-over-the-top hardcover. The first edition was published by Henry Holt in 1955 but became a huge bestseller with a featured presentation by the Book-of-the-Month Club two years later. A first edition in dust jacket will go for around $20 with one in premium condition upping the ante somewhat.