The American Experience: 1630-1890: A Collection

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Bookplate-12-2

A bookplate to remember a sale


By Bruce McKinney

This article pertains to a collection of early, often important Americana I've consigned to auction at Bonham's in New York on December 2nd.

Various links are posted on page 3.

Collectible books are usually purchased one at a time. Catalogues, letters, phone calls and emails arrive. Items are noted and identified for consideration. A new possibility becomes a weekend project. Questions are asked, condition and terms discussed and soon enough possibilities turn into purchases that arrive a few days later. A book here and a book there and in a few years the impulse to collect becomes a collection underway. In this way my collection of the American Experience took root and became a passion. It began before the internet and was completed as the flow of rare material streaming onto the internet was beginning to transform the rare book field. Altogether I spent about a decade, 1991-2001, focused on this collection.

Its theme, re-embraced in my forties, was American history and the material items that fit within the evolving continuum of thought and perception between 1630 and 1890 in the new world. Ideas it turns out are chameleons, the words more or less the same, their meanings evolving. In collecting there is of course no limit to how subjects are parsed. It is the collector's decisions and discipline that determine. The boundaries are endlessly subject to reinterpretation because seller's sirens are always wailing, the descriptions are always appealing, the material is always attractive, the impulse to acquire always strong.

Within the matrix of discipline, desire and seduction random purchases become collections. In this way various and sundry items, the last acquired a decade ago, became the American Experience with an emphasis on changing perception, human understanding being fickle, beauty always in the eyes of the beholder. Freedom, it turns out, is much more than "just another word for nothing left to lose." To different people, be they men, women or children, whatever their color, religion, legal and financial standing, wherever and whenever, they are at once both unique and also threads in tapestries whose colors, like oil on water, appear differently to sundry observers. That historians today more focus on single stories than on broad brush theories recognizes this truth. Any more, the only simple ideas about human history are expressed in grade and high school texts. To the rest of the world fixed perspective is a chimera. Capturing these changing perspectives became my goal.