I’m New Here: Week Thirty-Three…

October 11, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

This week, while pulling issues that contain Emily Dickinson death notices, I read about the first public appearance of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and also the institution of the Income Tax.  As this was in 1886, I was surprised at the latter.  Actually, I was surprised to see so many famous names and events in just a ten day span within that May.  Oscar Wilde was hosting parties, Chicago was caught up in the Haymarket affair, and Coca-Cola was invented by a pharmacist.  The rabbit trail I chose to follow (after investigating this whole Federal Income Tax thing that has historically been attributed to Woodrow Wilson’s presidency almost thirty years later) began with the following words to the Editor of the New York Times:  “Mr. Putnam’s remarks on the impropriety of republishing [Washington] Irving’s works in their unrevised form, have but one fault; they are not strong enough.”

It is Autumn with a capital “A” in the northeast United States where, flanked by hilly vistas of multi-hued splendor, every street corner proclaims this the month of Hallowe’en.  Washington Irving, author of the famous ghost story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, could easily have been one of the serialized authors featured in the 1869 “Saturday Night” issues I have been pulling for a Philadelphia area collector.  And October is definitely the time of year in which strange, extraordinary and macabre stories would have provided thrilling weekend entertainment to a 19th century culture blessedly devoid of electronic clamor.

I didn’t know about Irving’s first published work, or the misinformation campaign to hype interest prior to the release of A History of New York.  I read about his “Knickerbocker” alter ego whose fictitious disappearance sparked a national following.  This moniker influenced sports teams, architectural structures, social groups, and even a toy company.  To this day, a resident of Manhattan is a Knickerbocker — nicknamed after a man who never was.

So, I am thankful for the censure that drew my attention away from the tax tables and the following words of “THE NEW INTERNAL REVENUE LAW. Topics of Interest to Everybody”:

Among these the Tax and Tariff laws are prominent, possessing an interest for every one, inasmuch as they most sensibly affect the cost of living, enhancing the prices of everything we eat, drink, or wear, adding to the value of articles of both necessity and luxury.  The Tax law especially appeals directly to our pockets; and we find that a share of our profits from manufacturing any article, as well as a proportion of the income which we annually receive, is due to the Government.

I would much rather consider impropriety of a literary kind.

 

 

I’m New Here: Week Thirty-Two…

September 27, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

This week as I was pulling some Gentleman’s Magazines to fill online catalog gaps, I hovered over an issue prior to searching within the computer system.  It was dated July 1776, and I took a minute to let that soak in.  I am regularly awestruck at handling all these papers, but particularly anything from such an important, pivotal year and month in American history.  Actually, I suppose it was significant to world history as well.

This is not a museum, however, but a place of business and conscience compelled me to limit my sighing to less than a minute before turning to the keyboard and pulling up the listing for this title and date.  And, as I read the opening lines of the description, I felt again the great privilege I have to be here.

“It is rare to find newspapers or magazines with the magical date of 1776, let alone ‘July, 1776’.  Here is one.”

These paragraphs are such valuable tools for searching as well as learning.  While Timothy Hughes Rare and Early Newspapers can boast 44 years in existence as a business, the depth of knowledge of history and its significance that is applied to filtering through the millions of papers in order to present each one goes far beyond a mere business listing.  And the one that filled my screen only served to deepen my wonder at this treasure trove chronicling the earliest days of this country.

The first article contains 3 pages of text on events in America, including: “Proceedings of the American Colonists since the Passing the Boston Port Bill” with various reports, one stating that: “…the main army of the United Colonies has changed its situation; and that the head-quarters are now at New-York, where Gen. Washington has already taken up his residence…”.  A proclamation issued by Congress concerning a redress of the grievances of the colonies says in part: “Therefore, Resolved, that it be recommended to the respective Assemblies and Conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to…their affairs has been…established, to adopt such a government…”, signed in type: John Hancock. Perhaps the most significant report is one mentioning the convention at Williamsburgh containing an important resolve (see) passed by the delegates which reads in part: “…That the delegates appointed to represent this colony…be instructed to propose to that…body to declare the united colonies free and independent…and that they give the assent of this colony to such declaration …..

I remember in my first days here, wondering if I would be required to wear gloves when handling these issues.  My query was shrugged off, but I have been asked the same by friends and acquaintances when I talk about my job.  We are used to seeing important things enclosed and protected behind glass and velvet ropes.  But these papers were made to be read, and passed around so the news could spread.  The older ones are often in better condition than the ones from the past few decades.  Still, they are individually protected within folders, as much to keep the edges safe and protected as to shield from light and other environmental contaminants.  I like that the storage options  we use are the same as those we offer to our collecting community.  Even though the crew here is much more seasoned than I, there is an unspoken acknowledgement that this is really amazing stuff, and I am not the only one that gets a bit awestruck…

I’m New Here: Week Thirty-One

September 20, 2019 by · 1 Comment 

Newspapers were bound into volumes throughout the years for a variety of reasons.  My favorite is that the owner of a large house would send off the papers that had been delivered, ironed, and read throughout the course of a year.  A book binder would glue and sew them together, and they would be returned to the home’s library, to be arranged with all the other years, and thus mark the history within which great homes and great families were housed.

Breaking a volume of bound issues goes against the grain for someone like me.  Perhaps the remembered library hush of early childhood imprinted an aura of solemnity to the world of books; perhaps the shadowed mystery of pre-reading years conjures the aroma that is akin to sacred things.  The most likely reason, however, is reflected in the lifetime acquisitions boxed in spare spaces, despite overflowing shelves in every room.  I like books.  And my forays into the back are exercises in willpower if I am headed toward All the Year Round, Household Words, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Weekly or Scribner’s Monthly – which are liberally laden with serialized stories from beloved authors.

This week, in a search for details surrounding a Harlem rabble-rouser, I found an article headed “BRITAIN AMERICANIZED, CHESTERTON CONTENDS”, followed by, “He says Existence of Nation Is Being Altered by American Economic Pressure”.  The opening words confirmed my hope that these were indeed opinions offered by the great writer of The Man Who Would Be Thursday, the Father Brown Mysteries, and seventy other titles.  Many American readers, such as myself, have relished the literary works of this sharp-witted, kind-hearted lay cleric of the early 1900’s.

The affection, it seems, was not mutual.

“Speaking last night at the Delphian Coterie dinner, G.K. Chesterton declared that English habit and life, the look of the English town and the whole tone of English existence are being altered by the economic and commercial pressure of America.  He said that if the Kaiser had occupied London with the Prussian Army he could not more completely have denationalized the English nation and city.  ’While I object most violently to the Americanization of England,’ he said, “I have no objection to the Americanization of America.  Most Americans I have known I have liked, but I have like them most when I have known them in America.  Let us approach all international criticism with a good deal of what our fathers called Christian humility.  What Americans call it I do not know because I do not think they ever met it.’”

And, with that, I have nothing more to say.

I’m New Here: Week Thirty (gasp!)

September 13, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Even eight months into my first year here, I still have important job skills to acquire. This week Guy introduced me to The Weekly Register, also known as the Niles’ Weekly Register. He actually didn’t provide much of an introduction as there was new inventory to pick up, but he mentioned the title and left me to find my way to the back wall of the annex.

Before I started the metaphorical digging in, I tried to get my bearings first by looking into the background of this publication that stretched from 1811 until 1848. Our own item description mentions “significant coverage of the War of 1812”, so I extracted an issue from the title year, settling on December 5, 1812. Just below the town and date, a centered, italicized quote from Virgil’s “The Aeneid” assured me I would appreciate this new acquaintance.
Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit, “Maybe someday you will rejoice to recall even this.” I wonder if it was intended to bolster the staff or the new country. At any rate, the printing address on the following line is a cheery thing. “Printed and published by H. Niles, South-st. next door to the Merchants’ Coffee House”.
The issue I borrowed from the racks covers the legislatures of New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina, where (if the reports are accurate) the members were busily balancing affairs of their individual states with decisions concerning the authority of the president to call out a state’s militia. I was struck by the measured, pragmatic way one William Plumer attempted to persuade the governing body of New Hampshire.  My pile of recommended reading for current politicians is growing taller every day.
A list of the “excellent toasts drank at New York, in commemoration of the evacuation of that city by the British” lauds the particular prowess of American sloops of war and the late Captain Jones, resting “on the bosom of the Atlantic.”
There is a four page section devoted to “Events of the War” packed with locations of ships, letters from various regiments, descriptions of force strength, and even a transcription of a Brigadier-General’s stirring call to arms.

“Rewards and honors await the brave. Infamy and contempt are reserved for cowards.

Companions in arms! — You came to vanquish a valiant foe. I know the choice you will make. Come on, my heroes!”

I can’t help but think that if we continued to work at bringing forth great words we might encourage heroic ideals in a culture so untethered to traditions of excellence in speech and conduct. Then again, I am only seeing the parts of 1812 that made it into print.

Anyway, if you don’t know The Weekly Register, I hope you too have opportunity to become acquainted.  It has certainly been my pleasure.

I’m New Here: Week Twenty-Nine… a.k.a. Peter Pan and the House of Lords

September 5, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

I can find no connection between my two items of interest for this week, except they were both published in the 1700’s. Consequently, I’ll provide a separate space for each, and invite a bit of interaction from any potential readers out there – proposing some sort of link between disparate finds.
My first encounter was prompted by a question from a purchaser wanting to know how much content was in the Account of Peter the Wild Boy highlighted within “The Gentleman’s Magazine” of February, 1785. I have a high degree of appreciation for the GM’s, and I particularly enjoy the questions/quests that require me to read a bit of the impressive material that passes through my fingertips. It felt enough like shirking that I offered an audible comment to the general vicinity, “So-and-so wants me to check the article length,” but it is legitimately in my job description.
At any rate, this 1782 report was three columns long, and led to my current conjecture that J.M. Barrie somehow had access to it as the inspiration for Neverland’s perpetually young ruler. Within the description by Lord Monboddo are the two sentences that utterly convinced me. “He is but low of stature, not exceeding five feet three inches; and …has a fresh healthy look. His face is not at all ugly or disagreeable; and he has a look that may be called sensible and sagacious for a savage.”  Surely this is the Lost Boy, Peter Pan!

Then, in an unrelated moment, I processed an order for five of the “Acts of Parliament”.  I felt confident that I could pull this portion from one of the more obscure locations, having sat down on the floor to look through these just a few weeks ago. It’s a bit challenging to become acclimated to the outmoded spelling, particularly when it’s obscured by calligraphy type, but persistence uncovers some true gems.  The Act “for the further Qualification of Justices of the Peace” claims “That no Attorney, Solicitor, or Proctor(?), in any Court whatsoever, shall, from and after the said Twenty fifth Day of March, One thousand seven hundred and thirty three, be capable to continue to be a Justice of the Peace, within any County for that part of Great Britain called England, or the Principality of Wales…”  Which might sound enlightened for the time, until the second to last paragraph which reads, “Provided always, That nothing in this Act contained shall extend to incapacitate any Peer or Lord of Parliament, or the elder Son or heir apparent of any Peer or Lord of Parliament, or of any Person qualified to serve as Knight of a Shire …”.

And, with that, the Middle Ages shadows this august body more than I anticipated from my modern perch.  Throughout random samplings of the Acts, this juxtaposition continues in the strange mix of rote tradition and civilized advancement, reflecting sessions that directly impact worldwide legal systems of today.

And I knew where to find them. 🙂

I’m New Here: Week Twenty-Eight…

August 29, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s probably obvious by now that histories of people are the most intriguing aspect of life to me and it helps me when I enter into the customer service aspect of this job. Each longtime collector, or birthday dabbler, or train-of-thought/rabbit trail follower (I made that term up) is led or driven by his or her own tale. And I am privileged to hear about the whys and wherefores of the quests.
This week I worked with an Earth Science teacher who has been collecting early records of hurricanes, tidal surges and solar eclipses with an intensity I can’t help but appreciate, even though I could barely follow his pontificating. It makes me happy that he is teaching, and I hope his enthusiasm is contagious to at least one of the jaded high schoolers trudging through the eleventh grade of our system of education. A writer in Manhattan checked in five times this week, and added titles that were absolutely vital to the history she is compiling and I have a mental image of scraps of paper covered in scribbles from which she cross checks and matches our latest catalog offerings. Her exclamations of delight are always tinged with the “I really shouldn’t…” tone that most dieters adopt.
Preferences aside, details really matter in this job. Enthusiasm over stories within a volume cannot excuse my neglect to mark the proper location for return. With thirty-one rows of interior shelving that is fifteen feet high and thirty feet long, a misfiled collection may never be found again, however valuable the issues or concentrated the search. Similarly, folks who ordered a hundred times don’t appreciate a letter that welcomes them as a new collector, and our six-digit item codes can’t have a single transposition without becoming wrong. By this error, I did not locate a New York Tribune from the Civil War period but a Scientific American from January 24, 1891. Tracing my mistake to the original point at which I veered from the straight and narrow path of accuracy, I ended up sitting down to a cup of tea and a technical description of the “Electrical Base Ball Bulletin.” It caught my eye because we are located in “The Birthplace of Little League” and host the annual World Series every August. As with the Science instructor, the technical jargon jumbles me a bit so I cannot begin to comprehend how the contraption worked. However, the description is clearly an invention of Mr. S. D. Mott of Passaic, New Jersey from 129 years ago, that was possibly the precursor to the system for the modern scoreboard display.

So, there you have it.

In the world of Rare and Early Newspapers, even a wrong turn (in a timely fashion) can land me in a place I learn something new.

I’m New Here: Week Twenty-Seven…

August 23, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Vacation is a good thing – as is coming back after a small change of scenery. I was up in Maine on a pond that is larger than any lake in my home state. And, while there, I was introduced to some important, prestigious folks who are third generation cabin (“camp” in the local vernacular) owners . We met at a covered dish supper out on one of the islands, bringing our contributions of bread and pie by way of a handmade wooden boat with a small outboard motor. And the inevitable question, “what do you do?” gave me a temporary fascinating status within the small group that included a renowned city planning consultant, a state representative, a former missionary to one of the Pacific islands and a couple of people who loosely classify themselves as “working in finance”.   And, once again, I can reflect on the wealth that comes to anyone with access to information and knowledge.
Last week I had intended to tell about The National Tribune – a paper packed full of everyday life. My bit of time away in a very small town where people still own the original house that their great grandfather built, or moved, or rebuilt after fire swept through that portion of the town, made me even more eager to share it.
We have here, in the annex, the years of 1885 through 1887. Within these weekly offerings is that strange blend of folksy and elite – the movers and shakers of a national capital as they move around town and shop and advertise and gossip and greet. Unlike that other Washington title The National Intelligencer, the first of the eight pages contains very little news, while the third page is devoted to veteran accounts of the American Civil War, with columns headed by campaign and battle names. Sandwiched between the words of the wife of the Speaker of the House concerning her eight children and the scientific reporting on the application of incandescent mantles to carriage lights are details of Senate hearings and policy matters that still impact us today.
If you have the opportunity, consider purchasing a random date from this collection. It’s less than two movie tickets and popcorn, and will likely enrich your life as much as it entertains. The newsy, small town tone reminds me of my recent time in New England, with the strange familiarity induced by elements we all have in common, whatever our circumstances or position.
Anyway, I plan to wander the New England titles from the 1800’s in my next bit of adventuring time. Life, as described by a community newspaper, is filled with unexpected moments of beauty, kindness and every day heroism.

Note: If you would like to purchase an issue of this title from the 1800’s, feel free to do so at: National Tribune, 1885-1887

I’m New Here: Week Twenty-Five…

August 9, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

I began this post with a completely different musing on the world of collecting.  However, one hundred and twenty words into it I received a query concerning the content of an issue posted on one of the web market places.  After my research concluded, I cleared my page to begin again.

We had a 1927 New York Times listed for sale, and the request was to verify whether or not a name was mentioned within the feature story.  And so, for the first time ever, I read about the USS S-4, a submarine that was rammed by a Coast Guard ship off of Massachusetts on December 17th.  Of the forty on board, six crew members survived long enough to signal their location.  For three days the divers heard sounds of life; then the tapping ceased.  One of the rescue team almost lost his life attempting to attach an air hose to the cavity in which the small group had huddled.  His buddy eventually received a medal for saving him.

It is horrible to follow the words of hope and heroic blow-by-blow efforts as diver after diver took a dangerous shift in the turbulence, spurred by the Morse signals from the submarine, “Is there any hope?”  Finally, reluctantly, the tragic designation was issued, “lost with all hands.”

If I read the historical bits correctly, it took three months to raise the sub, which (“who” to all those in the habit of employing the feminine pronoun for a ship) was utilized for another five years following the disaster.  My contact today was looking for the name of his grandfather among the divers who battled weather and odds in the hours following the crash.  And he is there.  The name I was commissioned to seek is nestled within the sentence, “First diver to the scene was ______________”  For a full column the radioed conversations from command to scene are reported word-by-word.  These were clearly the exchanges of men determined to save their fellow men, at great cost and against reasonable hope.  And my imagination had me within that family, hearing bits and pieces of this epic event through the years.  Perhaps he never talked about it at all.  Either way, the very words spoken as one diver worked through the obstacles are here on the pages within an issue that we will carefully package and ship out to his grandson.

For me, this personal narrative embedded within a national tragedy eclipsed every other treasure found in a week packed with collectors seeking titles spanning from Virginia Gazettes to Village Voices.

I just had to share.

I’m New Here: Week Twenty-Four…

August 2, 2019 by · 2 Comments 

Today someone asked me to choose the nicer of two issues.  Each had the same date, the same title, the same price, and so a collector (who was in that particular instance selecting a gift) wanted to know which I thought best.
As many of my interactions are, this was a phone conversation. I offered to send photographs, but he said, “You told me my previous selection was beautiful, so I trust you.”
While that is a very nice compliment to give to “the new girl”, to be quite frank it worried me. Guy’s philosophy, when it comes to describing the condition of an item, is to set expectations low, and let the collector be pleasantly surprised. And it makes sense. He makes sense. We are shipping things hundreds of years old to folks hundreds of miles away. How can we possibly use common evaluations to describe Rare and Early items?
See, the truth is that I am a bit entranced by these old papers. I’m learning to see the browning, the foxing, and even the tears in very peripheral ways. Instead, every part of the oldest papers feels stately and significant.  The decorative mastheads are fancy, but the straightforward block type conveys dependability and balance; loveliness can be displayed in a broad range of styles.

This young upstart country has packed a lot of history into two hundred and forty-three years, and these pages tell of the innovation and the expansion.  They report virtues and crimes.

It’s a little magical to me to stand and contemplate  volumes stuffed with the details that brought us to where we are today.  For better, as they say, or worse.

An expert knows the wear and tear that decreases value, and our catalog prices often reflect that aspect.  So, I’m not really the one to ask when you want to ascertain condition.  If the words of the stories are there, I will probably tell you something hyperbolic like, “It’s stunning.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m transfixed.

I’m New Here: Weeks Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three…

July 26, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Time seems to be advancing at an ever-increasing pace.  Each day is crammed with more tasks than can possibly be accomplished; I think this means I am beginning to get the hang of things.  But Monday brought me up short a bit as I searched titles tracing a particular story which initially diverted to the Freedom Ride.  As intriguing as the tone in those accumulating reports of bus rides through the South was, the heading on a neighboring column wrested my eyes and my thoughts.  I had to know the reason that divorcees (such a fancy and outmoded term) spent a night in jail.  At least that’s what I believed at the time.  However, since it has been four days since I read the report and I am still ready to sound forth at a moment’s reflection, it might have been better if I stuck to the familiar angst over bus seats allocated by color of skin.

In case accompanying photographs do not tell enough story, women went to jail because deadbeat dads (such a crass and modern term) did not pay court-ordered child support.  Just that.  The year was 1963, and I suppose I am not meant to expect much else from the era — particularly that the freedom to assemble could possibly, legally, be constrained to a total of four persons.

Because, that was the crux of the charges — the reason for the headline:  Night in Jail Makes Divorcees Contrite.  “They promised that if they ever picket the County Building again to protest lagging support payments they will keep within the legal limit of four.”  Fifty-six years ago a woman who was not receiving justice promised by the legal system had to promise to forego rights granted in 1791 by the First Amendment, even as she attempted to bring pressure to bear on the powers that be.  Of course, I’m not foolish enough to think that this tiny fragment that sparks my ire is as important than any of the other Civil Rights /liberties that seem to have too limited of a citizenry to whom they are applied.  And I am fiercely glad that the group of four swelled to an angry mob of twelve, bringing so much havoc upon the town that these single mothers had to be jailed in order to preserve the peace.  Perhaps they were granddaughters of those who marched for Suffrage .  It may be that they were inspired by other heroes that brought about change. Because things are not the same today. Here it helps me to take in the 1963 newspaper as a whole, reading again of the laws that were eventually impacted by two different groups.  In 2019, wearied with seemingly insurmountable conflict, offense, discrimination and outright hatred, the neighboring headline, “11 Riders Quietly Leave for Mississippi Test Run” provides some perspective.  Multiple barriers to equality remain, but many have been knocked down.  Many barriers have been knocked down, but perhaps some have been worn away through the centuries by those whose stories are woven through old newspaper pages, those who find their own, quiet, persistent way to push back.

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