December 31, 2013

The Year Books Became Luxury Objects

Interesting piece here that posits that aesthetic pleasue is what books are really all about. Therefore, since e-books are so much more efficient and convenient, one's home bookshelves amount to the equivalent of a literary "trophy case," showing that the owner has supposedly read whatever classic titles sit on the shelves. Hmmm, I'm not so sure I buy that, though that might be the case for exquisite limited editions with fine bindings and/or handmade paper that showcase the bookmaking art.

Happy New Year one and all! I hope that all Civil War and general book-loving visitors to this site discover something of interest and enjoyment. May 2014 be the year that you find a pristine copy of that $500 rare book you've been seeking forever for only a few bucks!

December 17, 2013

African-American 1800s Prison Memoir

Just a bit off topic, but interesting nonetheless. Random House has acquired what appears to be the oldest US prison memoir written by an African American. The 304-page manuscript, by a man named Austin Reed, was recently authenticated by scholars at Yale University.

Titled The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, or the Inmate of a Gloomy Prison, the memoir traces Reed’s story of imprisonment and harsh punishment while he was at a state prison in upstate New York from the 1830s to the 1850s. The full online article may be found here.

There are a few interesting comments regarding copyright and public domain, including some that wonder just who a fee is being paid to. It also appears that the original, handwritten manuscript is online here.

December 3, 2013

A Book's Provenance

A book’s “provenance” is the chronological history of its ownership and can also include a study of how certain individual titles passed from one owner to the next.

Obviously, for the vast, vast majority of books, who owned the book in the past is irrelevant and, in fact, any type of previous owner’s signature, rubber stamp, or bookplate is generally viewed as a fault with regards to the book’s condition.

On the other hand, such identifying marks can be a positive is if the book came from the library of a person of note, someone connected to the author, or someone closely related to the book’s subject. In the world of Civil War book collecting, such previous owner markings can add to a book’s luster if that previous owner was a Civil War veteran or politician.

For example, I recently acquired a nice copy of John W. Headley’s Confederate Operations in Canada and New York (Neale, 1906) from a very reputable book dealer. The front endpaper of the book contains the signature of J. Taylor Ellyson and also the rubber stamp of J. William Jones of 709 ½ Clay St. in Richmond. The dealer pointed out that Ellyson (1847-1919) served in the Confederacy’s “Richmond Howitzers” and was later a three-term mayor of Richmond. Jones (1836-1909) was a Confederate chaplain and the author of Christ in the Camp (1887) and The Life and Letters of Robert E. Lee (Neale, 1906). He has been described by one modern historian as "the single most important link between Southern religion and the Lost Cause." Such ownership history adds cachet to any book.

So all in all, if you have a 19th-century Civil War book with an earlier owner’s signature or two in the front, it might pay to do a bit of research to try and find out who that person was!