American Congress Authorizes Privateers (see below)
Much to my surprise last week’s blog, “Auctioneers as Enemies of Archives,” elicited a strong response. I’d always thought of archives as collections of letters from whalemen, or the accumulated papers of a pioneering family, or some sailor’s assembled records and journals. Americana, in other words.
But I received several impassioned emails from colleagues and collectors who specialize in politics, entertainment, and sports, telling me that the situation with auction houses was as bad, or worse, in their areas of interest. Come to think of it, some bygone movie star’s attic could be just as much an “archive” as last week’s tidily assembled group of papers pertaining to the loss of the whale ship Richmond. Having some greed-head root through that attic in search of love notes from Clark Gable does it just as much a disservice as the dissection of the Richmond papers did to that archive.
These were my thoughts last weekend as I confronted another archive – my own.
In the chaos surrounding the destruction of my old building
(more than two years ago!) books, papers, and prints got thrown into boxes without a thought,
and packed hastily into fancy insurance company PODs.
Then, after the insurance money stopped coming in, the boxes got piled into cheaper steel shipping containers.
Never once did I have the opportunity or the inclination to stop and consider the material I was handling. At the time I was just dealing with a monumental problem in logistics.
Then the new building was finished – at least to the point where I had a clean, dry basement – and it was time to start thinking about landscaping.
So, on Saturday and Easter Sunday, Joe and I emptied both containers.
Talk about a Resurrection!
Don’t know how I missed it the first time, but all the sudden I was lugging boxes of records from 1978, say, or the paperweight that my daughter had made for me in kindergarten twenty-two years ago. Books I hadn’t seen in years, charts and maps that I’d forgotten I even owned.
It was dizzying. All the more so because I knew that soon I’d have to open each box and deal with its contents - file, shelve, or discard all that history.
I’ll be starting right after the New York Book Fair, and I may not come out of that basement for weeks.
And speaking of the New York Book Fair… Somehow, while this archaeological dig was taking place, I had to get my goods ready to bring to New York. Sorting, cataloging and packing took place amidst heightened chaos,
with more than the usual dread, enhanced by the fact that the fair kicks off on Friday the 13th – “What if I don’t sell anything. How could I sell anything? I’ve got nothing to sell…” etc. etc.
Years ago I asked Bill Reese if he’d had a good fair. He gave me a crooked smile. “Any fair I survive is a good fair,” he told me.
That’s where I’m coming from this year.
Tune in next week to see if I made it.
Broadside. IN CONGRESS WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3, 1776... INSTRUCTIONS TO THE COMMANDERS OF PRIVATE ARMED VESSELS OF WAR, WHICH SHALL HAVE COMMISSIONS OF LETTERS OF MARQUE AND REPRISAL, AUTHORIZING THEM TO MAKE CAPTURES OF BRITISH VESSELS AND CARGOES. SIGNED AND ANNOTATED BY HENRY LAURENS AS PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. Folio sheet, 13 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. According to Evans this broadside was printed by John Dunlap in Philadelphia in 1776. The first issue printed John Hancock’s name as president of the Congress in type, but the form continued to be issued by other presidents of the Congress for the instruction of American ships as late as 1780. South Carolinian Henry Laurens succeeded Hancock as president of the Congress from March to June 1776, so this is a very early issue of the broadside. The text elaborates eleven paragraphs of instructions for American privateers. These vessels far outnumbered ships of the fledgling American navy, and had a huge effect on the outcome of the war, accounting for the capture of hundreds of British ships and millions of dollars in prize money. This document shows light rubbing along three horizontal folds and some light toning along the edges, but is in excellent condition overall. Interestingly, as well as signing the document, Laurens has made two manuscript alterations to the text, changing “Inhabitants of Great Britain” to “Subjects of the King of Great Britain” in article I, and inserting the additional condition, “or acquitted” in article V. A rare document. Evans 15137 locates only the Library of Congress copy. Worldcat shows several locations for the John Hancock and later John Jay issues, but makes no mention of this Henry Laurens signing. $9500