Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2022 Issue

Shirley Anson: in love with history and preservation

Shirley Anson, a remarkable local historian

Shirley Anson, 82, historian for the Town of Plattekill in Ulster County, New York passed away December 14, 2021 and I write to remember and celebrate her commitment and interest in history and preservation.  Our paths crossed about 10 years ago when I found something in a Rhode Island dealer’s inventory related to Plattekill and contacted her, as historian for the Town of Plattekill, to learn if she knew about it.  She had been aware but the price had been more than her budget allowed.  I bought it.

 

What I found when I received the manuscript, was a directory of the organization, rules, membership, and borrowing history of the Pleasant Valley Library Society in Plattekill from December 1810 to 1821--.  What I also found was an early Ulster  County community committed to learning, while wrestling with the value and availability of books.  Their local population had limited literacy, sources for books were few and their prices dear but nevertheless they were committed to encourage literacy.

 

In time I concluded the impetus for this private library was probably related to Thomas Jefferson’s long established advocacy for literacy. Even as early as his writing of the Declaration of Independence, his writings reflected his view that basic education was instrumental to securing life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  Private subscription libraries, after independence was won, would turn out to become bridges to future literacy.  

 

Good intentions aside, the histories of such private libraries were fraught.  Their organizers were clear in their pursuit of literacy but universal public education was only an idea.  Only a few residents could read and afford to pay for membership and pay the occasional penalties for late or damaged material.  In Plattekill in the early 19th century, there was the will to try and the written records show how the commitment worked out.

 

Their short lived library society would turn out to be a purely local effort to lend copies, subject to their rules.  Who would be their members, what material they acquired for their lending stock, who borrowed what, and who followed the rules is described in manuscript detail.  It is an amazing document.  Free libraries would replace most private institutions later in the 19th century.  The PVLS would turn out to be an early example of inspired commitment.

 

Shirley was very interested in the Society’s records and I had the entire document professionally scanned and organized for her.

 

Between us, we began to wonder if any of the more than 100 books listed in the Society’s records could be found in or nearby Plattekill.  She was controlling several inventories that once had  been held locally and began to look at every book she had to see if any had the Society’s mark and in time found seven that were the exact copies referenced in the Society’s records.  In time, she sold me two.  We were beyond excited.  Such discoveries are the holy grail of local collecting.

 

Such discoveries aside, she was committed to the Plattekill Historical Society, I flew east and met.  She had ambitions but local history is thinly supported.  I visited the two buildings they had, imagining how they might create a museum.  She was both convinced and convincing and Jenny and I gave her $5,000.

 

Now her daughter, Jami and her son Kelly, are joining the Society’s board.  Shirley was for decades the power, intelligence and ambition of that organization, and she leaves me in awe of her commitment to local history.

 

She is gone now but leaves footprints leading into the future.

 

With my deepest gratitude.  She made a difference.

 

Poughkeepsie Journal obituary:  https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/obituaries/pjo068908

 

I wrote an article for the September 2016 issue of Rare Book Monthly about the Pleasant Valley manuscript records, titled "A Private Library in Ulster County:  the year 1810.  Shirley left a comment.  

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: U.S. / European Shipping Archive 1800-1814. The Widow Bermingham & Sons Collection. €7,000 to €10,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Bunreacht na hÉireann. Constitution of Ireland. An important copy of the First Printing of De Valera’s new Constitution, approved in 1938. Signed by the Constitution Cabinet. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: A Rare Complete Run of the Cuala Press Broadsides. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Grose (Francis). The Antiquities of Ireland, 2vols. folio London (for S. Hooper) 1791. Magnificent Hand-Coloured Copy - Only 25 Copies. €3,000 to €5,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Cantillon (Richard). Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, Traduit de l'Anglois, Sm. 8vo London (Fletcher Gyles) 1756. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Gregory, (Lady Augusta). Spreading the News: The Rising of the Moon: The Poorhouse (with Douglas Hyde). Being Vol. IX of the Abbey Theatre Series. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Lavery (Lady Hazel). A moving series of three A.L.S. and a Telegram to Gen. Eoin O'Duffy, July-August 1927, expressing her grief at the death of Kevin O'Higgins. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Dampier (Wm.) Nouveau Voyage Autour du Monde, ou l'on descrit en particulier l'Isthme de l'Amerique…, 2 vols. in one, Amsterdam, 1698. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Howell (James). Instructions for Forreine Travel Shewing by what Cours, and in what Compasse of Time…, London, 1642. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1999, First Edn., First Printing of Deluxe Collectors Edn. Signed. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: James (Wm.) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of The Late War Between Great Britain and The United States of America. 2 vols. Lond. 1818. €650 to €900.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: The Laws of the United States, Published by Authority, 3 vols. Philadelphia (Richard Folwell) 1796. €600 to €800.
  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: RARE AUTOGRAPH OF AMERICAN NAVAL HERO CAPTAIN JAMES MUGFORD. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A SIGNED HART CRANE BROOKLYN BRIDGE POSTCARD TO EDWARD DAHLBERG. $600 - $800
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A STOCK CERTIFICATE SIGNED BY THE "QUEEN OF WALL STREET," HETTY GREEN. $700 - $900

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