September 2011 | Rebecca Rego Barry

David M. Lesser

Catalogue Review: David M. Lesser, Fine Antiquarian Books, #119

David Lesser's catalogue is titled Rare Americana, and the subtitle is: a catalogue of significant and unusual imprints relating to America. True, true. Though if he had wanted to, he could have used a more sensational lede like: Murder! Slavery! Adultery! Disease! For the titles that popped out at me were of indelicate (and thus very interesting) subject matter.

In "murder" we have several highlights. A rare 1846 book printed in Kentucky on the Life and Trial of Dr. Abner Baker, who murdered his brother-in-law, whom Baker believed was having an affair with his "nymphomaniac" wife ($750). A little-known racial crime has its day in court with a good+ 1806 edition of Report of the Trial of Dominic Daley and James Halligan, convicted of murdering a young man and throwing him into the Chicopee River ($600). The two were exonerated 178 years later by Gov. Dukakis, who believed them victims of anti-Irish bias. An 1801 Report of the Trial of Jason Fairbanks...for the Murder of Elizabeth Fales is another in this grouping, and there are yet more ($175).
Slavery is represented in different ways, including a manuscript letter to Isaac Braithwaite of England from James B. Parsons of New York, concerning the schism in the Society of Friends over slavery ($350). There's a broadsheet muster roll of Civil War "colored troops" in Kansas from 1864 ($3,500), as well as an 1852 report of the trial of Castner Hanway, indicted for treason because he resisted fugitive slave laws ($1,250), and a pamphlet on the Dred Scott case from 1860 ($450). 

No Scarlet Letter here, but the Report of the Great Divorce Case ...  Thomas H. Dunham Versus Eliza A. Dunham will cover adultery for us ($450). Printed in Boston in 1842, this record of divorce in high society is scarce. 

Philadelphia was a pit of disease in the eighteenth century, and printer/publisher Mathew Carey wrote his own account of a yellow fever epidemic. Lesser has the "third edition improved" from November 30, 1793 ($375). Coupled with another account of the same epidemic, A Short Account Of The Yellow Fever in Philadelphia, For The Reflecting Christian from 1794, you'd have a nice set ($350).

All this and even more vices! Nathaniel Appleton's A Plain and Faithful Testimony Against That Abominable, But Too Fashionable Vice of Profane Swearing...was printed in Boston in 1765 ($450). It fits rather well in this catalogue--a broad and intriguing selection of materials from the Connecticut-based bookseller who specializes in the "social, political, and cultural history of the Americas." What fun. The full catalogue is available online at: