Catalog No. 150: Icons of Western Civilization
Catalogues tell stories, some complex and others simple. Book catalogues, not so long ago, were all or mostly books. Today, while books remain the bedrock of information transfer, they share the stage with manuscripts, maps, documents and photographs as over the decades precedence of appearance has increasingly trumped presentation and books, often early but often not the earliest introduction of an idea, have increasingly found themselves desired but not the most desirable. For first references to seminal ideas manuscripts, letters, proof copies and photographs often if not always precede books. If there are rules, they are conditional because our understanding and expectations adjust as we move back in time, our perception a changing Alice’s Looking Glass view.
What we can expect to find in the 20th century is almost always fresh and complete, what we find from the 15th century more often manuscript or examples of early printing. In between, however expressed or printed, the form is often less important than the ideas expressed, ideas that have themselves moved the world or signaled profound changes. Once one is then freed from any specific form the pursuit of the iconic early or unique expression emerges as a logical way to understand and collect and this is where Catalogue 150 takes us – on a journey to and among Icons of Civilization. It follows the ideas and in so doing leads us across a patchwork quilt of possibilities, equally comfortable with images, maps, books, and manuscripts. And pursued to its logical end this is a form of collecting that changes as more information is gathered, an open ended pursuit of evolving perception.
Catalogues with great intentions are invariably the outcome of decades of experience. I asked Stephan Loewentheil, the founder of the 19th Century Shop, to both look back and ahead. At 64 he’s been collecting for 35 years, as a dealer selling for thirty and issuing on average 5 catalogs a year. He has taken a path only occasionally seen, the trained lawyer who chooses not to practice, in his case initially to run a historical renovation project in Baltimore that later lead to a divided life, organizer/rebuilder by day and a committed book sleuth by night. In time he and his wife Beth concluded he would try, for three years, to become a professional rare book dealer. If it didn’t work out he would practice law. Thirty years later his career is no longer pending confirmation. If it was once the road less taken it has become the path by which he has excelled in a personally distinctive way, his interest in unearthing obscure bibliographic details leading to the acquisition of underappreciated rarities, seminal documents and early historic photographic images.
His more than three decades in the trade has seen the field of paper collectibles in flux as Internet awareness has increased what we know and often redefined collecting taste and methods. “In the 1980s what we studied and sold was well understood. Today we are continuously learning, unearthing new materials and new formats to be added to the great tradition of the book. The process of and experience of change in the transmission of knowledge and collecting has affected the 19th Century Shop. Simply stated, we are today refocused as the 19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop: rare books, manuscripts, and photographs representing mankind’s greatest achievements. The world is more focused on the crucial and the first and we have changed with it, expanding deeply into great manuscripts and photography.”
Deciding what is important is the life’s work of some of the greatest dealers: the one hundred most influential books, the most important events, the earliest images that exist. To put them into a catalogue also means you had to acquire them, looking for years and stepping ahead of others to reach these prizes one by one. H. P. Kraus, the legendary New York book dealer did this several times and perhaps most memorably published Catalogue 185 that went so unappreciated virtually nothing sold for almost ten years. Fabulous material doesn’t always catch the market’s immediate fancy.
Choosing items from the tens of thousands acquired over a lifetime to be set aside for inclusion in a memorable catalogue to be presented years into the future, to we now know, celebrate thirty years in business and confirm his commitment to the collecting of important ideas and their earliest origins, this catalogue arrives at the very moment when the field now embraces seminal documents and works as the gold standard for important collections. Catalogue 150 brings us up-to-date. If Mr. Loewenthiel early perfected a vision of what a collection could be, with this 30th anniversary catalogue, he shows where his thinking is today. And it’s remarkable:
We are pleased to offer an unpublished Age of Discovery manuscript with otherwise unrecorded information by one of Columbus’s shipmates, the earliest known photograph of John D. Rockefeller, two exceptional copies of The Federalist, two of the greatest photographic publications of the 19th century (Barnard’s Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign and Russell’s The Great West), first editions of Newton’s Principia and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, signed photographs of Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner, and many others. We offer the icons of civilization from throughout history—the books, manuscripts, and photographs that represent mankind’s greatest achievements.”
Here are descriptions for the 10 items illustrated in this article:
Lot 4. Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion (1887), first edition of this landmark of photography and technology. $120,000
Lot 14. (Christopher Columbus.) Important unpublished 1512 manuscript concerning the voyages to the New World by Columbus, Vespucci, and others. POR
Lot 22. The Federalist (1788), an exceptional copy of the first edition in original boards, signed by Roger Alden, whom George Washington entrusted with the original signed Constitution, $450,000
Lot 28. Theodor Herzl, Der Judenstaat (1896), first edition, presentation copy of the "Manifesto of Zionism" inscribed to Herzl's friend playwright Arthur Schnitzler. $160,000
Lot 60. Walt Whitman, Autograph manuscript comparing Leaves of Grass with works of Wordsworth and Bryant. $35,000
Lot 80. A. J. Russell, The Great West (1869), first edition, illustrated with 50 large-format albumen photographs documenting the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and the land through which it ran. $325,000
Lot 88. Alexander Hamilton. Letter Concerning the Conduct and Character of John Adams (1800) "one of only a few copies printed for Hamilton as a private circular," one of the origins of the Hamilton-Burr duel, inscribed and signed by Hamilton. $70,000
Lot 122. Wernher von Braun, Signed drawing of a spaceship (1952), by the father of the American space program. $25,000
Lot 127. Emancipated Slaves albumen photograph (1863), one of the great American slavery photographs. $18,000
Lot 130. Isaac Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), first edition of the Principia, "the greatest work in the history of science" (PMM), in an untouched contemporary binding. POR
What follows next is a downloadable version of this catalogue:
www.19thshop.com/catalogues Download the complete catalogue.
The 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop
10400 Stevenson Road, Suite 100
Stevenson, MD 21153 USA
phone: (410) 602-3002
fax: (410) 602-3006
446 Kent Avenue PH-A
Brooklyn, NY 11249 USA
phone: (347) 529-4534
fax: (347) 529-6779