David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their Catalogue 198 of Rare Americana. The material includes some items from the 18th century, much from the 19th. The time period traces the birth of the nation and a period of peace and growth, and then into a time when the “era of good feelings” devolved into outright war. Today we face another round of deterioration where the good feelings have turned bad and the outcome is unknown. Hopefully not civil war again. Here are a few items to help learn from our past so we don't have to repeat it.
The issue that plunged America into civil war was slavery, and racism was a large part of the justification for permitting such a horrible practice. That ugly aspect of American society is seen clearly in this 1860 broadside from Currier and Ives of New York, no less. It's caption headline reads, An Heir to the Throne, or the Next Republican Candidate. That candidate was to be the successor to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln converses with abolitionist publisher Horace Greeley. Between them stands a small black man, whose appearance is based on a deformed African American displayed at P. T. Barnum's Museum. He was also said to be weak of mind. He exclaims, “What can dey be?” Greeley says, “Gentlemen, let me introduce to you, this illustrious individual to whom you will find combined, all the graces, and virtue of Black Republicanism, and whom we propose to run as our next Candidate for the Presidency.” Lincoln responds, “How Fortunate! that this intellectual and noble creature should have been discovered at this time, to prove to the world the superiority of the Colored over the Anglo-Saxon race, he will be a worthy successor to carry out the policy which I shall inaugurate.” Item 35. Priced at $3,000.
One always likes products that serve multiple purposes, though this one seems like an odd combination. Then again, considering its time, maybe it did make sense. This broadside promotes J. J. Towle's Combined Foot Warmer and Lantern. You probably wouldn't think a flashlight that warmed your feet makes much sense, but this was meant to sit low on a horse-drawn sleigh. It would light the way ahead you, and considering there were no headlights on sleighs, this would have been very helpful seeing your way back from Grandma's house at night. Towle pointed out that it was a great safety feature for people walking along the way. They could see you coming and get out of the way. Meanwhile, the burning oil would throw heat near your feet, but without burning or injuring your clothing. It would not be blown out by wind or fast driving, and pipes carried the smoke away so it would not bother you. Towle also created a little poetry to go with his sales pitch, beginning, “One cent a day will kill the cold; / In comfort pay a hundred fold; 'Twill keep you warm – prevent the chills, / And save from paying Doctor's bill!” Towle would have understood cold winters as he came from Maine. He either got a patent or at least applied for one, but whether he ever was successful selling this is unknown to me. Circa 1880. Item 53. $450.
Here is the work of an unnamed poet even better than Towle. This is a broadside showing a man leading a donkey. Below are eight poetic stanzas, all ending with the same capitalized two words. Here's how it begins:
“Oh, well do I remember yet
How very proud I used to get,
When like a little king I'd set upon
When seated on his nice soft back,
my tinny little whip I'd crack,
And with my little hand I'd smack
Is there a double entendre here? There are six more verses but you will have to purchase this item if you want to hear the rest. It was published by Childs of Philadelphia circa 1820s (?). Item 19. $2,500.
There's nothing like a good murder mystery to capture the public's attention, and Philadelphia's Barclay & Co. were experts at spinning out lurid tales to capture their interest and money. This one, circa 1883, Murder Will Out! Startling News! The mysterious murder of pretty Rose Ambler, the Connecticut beauty, and awful confession of "Jack" Krantz. Rose Ambler, ex-wife of Norman Ambler, had taken up with one William Lewis. She spent evenings with him, but then walked back to her father's house, alone, after dark, as Lewis had to rise early in the morning for work. This was a regular occurrence that she would walk home in the very dark rural setting near Stratford. One night she did not return home. Neighbors heard what they thought was the screeching of an owl, but when her body was discovered the next morning, they exclaimed, “It was no owl that we heard last night. It was the death cry of Rose Ambler.” The first suspect was Norman Ambler, but he had eyewitness alibis many miles away. Several others were investigated before authorities' prime target became Lewis. There was testimony they had argued, but no substantial evidence was ever found. As for Jack Krantz, I found nothing about him other than he was one of the witnesses, though not of the crime itself. No one was ever convicted and the crime remains unresolved. Item 2. $875.
University of North Carolina chemistry professor B. S. Hedrick had unusual political views for the South in 1856. He was in favor of the Republican presidential candidate, John C. Fremont. “I like the man,” he said. What he liked in particular that was unpopular in the South was his opposition to the extension of slavery to the newly acquired territories. “Opposition to slavery extension is neither a Northern or sectional ism. It originated with the great Southern statesmen of the Revolution. Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Madison and Randolph were all opposed to slavery in the abstract, and were all opposed to admitting it into new territory.” He felt “slavery exerts an evil influence both upon whites and blacks.” He was not an abolitionist, saying it could not be eliminated where already present, but should not be extended as “it is almost impossible to get rid of the system.” He expressed his views in this broadside headed Prof. Hedrick's Defense. He concludes, “I think I should be met by argument and not by denunciation.” North Carolinians were not interested in reasonable debate. They were outraged and the university fired him for his political views. Item 45. $2,000.