Massachusetts is home to a wealth of institutional rare book libraries and special collections, private and public. Collecting groups, college and town libraries, historical societies, and museums contain an astonishing depth of irreplaceable monuments to our collective social and intellectual history. Consider the Emily Dickinson collection at the Houghton Library at Harvard; the original holograph manuscript of Henry David Thoreau’s Walking held at the Concord Free Public Library; the Hemingway archive at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library; or the Mather Family Library at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, this material is invaluable to scholars, students, and society. Through the rare book auctions at Skinner, we have an opportunity to handle books, documents, maps, and prints as they transfer from one collection to another, often seeing this material migrate into private and public special collections where it will be safely housed, cataloged, and preserved for the next generation. We are also fortunate to avail ourselves of library resources for research. In our capacity as appraisers, we are able to keep institutional and private collections up to date on the value of holdings for insurance, donation, and de-accessions.
The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) was established by an act of the Massachusetts General Court in 1812, through the efforts of Isaiah Thomas, Worcester printer and patriot, who donated his collection of 8,000 volumes as the foundation of the collection. The oldest historical society in the country with a national focus, the AAS continues as a vibrant presence, retaining more than three million items in its diverse collection of archival materials; and holding two-thirds of all books printed in the United States before 1820.
AAS is hosting its eighth annual Adopt-a-Book fundraiser, with an opening reception on Tuesday May 5, 2015, from 6pm to 8pm. Adopt-a-Book provides the general public an opportunity to
interact with other book lovers and get to know the collection while supporting its mission. Potential adoptees are posted on the AAS website and donors can choose their favorites, with donation levels between $50 and $1,000, all tax-deductible to benefit the Society. The variety of interesting manuscript material, newspapers, books, and ephemera listed allows donors to sample the breadth of the collection and to identify themselves directly with their selected adoptee.
As head of the book department at Skinner, I was very happy to be able to participate in the Adopt-a-Book fundraiser. I chose a manuscript account book that was used in a variety of ways in the 19th century. Part ship’s log, medical receipt book, business account record, farm diary, and scrapbook, this bound volume is unique in itself and common as a type. Multi-use manuscripts of this nature come to auction too. Skinner recently sold an interesting Revolutionary War-era account book of a Raynham blacksmith notable for its entries concerning the fitting of bayonets to civilian firearms and the repair of flintlocks. The upcoming spring auction will also offer several interesting manuscript books, including late-18th century ships’ logs by New England merchant Captain William Trottier, detailing his transactions and adventures in China, Buenos Aires, Hawaii, and beyond; account books of Pennsylvania Quaker John Roberts who was executed for treason, accused of supporting the British cause during the Revolutionary War; and a very detailed account book made by a cobbler in the 1830’s.
Please join me in supporting the mission of the AAS by participating in the Adopt-a-Book fundraiser, and let’s celebrate the importance of rare books and special collections.