July 4th - A Celebration of Ideas... and Manuscripts


Today is July 4th, Independence Day in the United States, a holiday on which we Americans collectively reflect on a manuscript penned several hundred years ago. The ideas set down on vellum by some of the most brilliant political philosophers of the 18th century (chief among them talented polymath Thomas Jefferson) created the framework for a government that has ensured 241 years (so far) of peace and stability (with these exceptions and this bloody exception). Naturally, it is the ideas and ideals contained within the text that we celebrate as we commemorate the birth of the U.S. But we also meditate on the physical documents which constitute the Charters of Freedom: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, all of which are preserved by the National Archives. 


John Trumbull's famous painting The Declaration of Independence

To understand the deep meaning to be found in seeing (and perhaps even touching or owning) original historical manuscripts, one only has to look at the veneration most Americans have for these documents. Today I wish my fellow Americans a happy Independence Day and encourage you to revisit the text of one or more of our founding documents here: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs (unless you're lucky enough to be in Washington to see the originals!).

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May our founding documents continue, as intended, to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” as so eloquently stated in our Constitution. Happy birthday, America!

A World War II Reading List

My book club recently read The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz by Denis Avey. Since such a regular part of my my day job is reading and writing about World War II and the Holocaust, I usually shy away from the subject during my free time. But this memoir was a gripping read. Avey's first-hand accounts of fighting in Africa, multiple captivities as a POW (and several daring escapes) definitely gave me a new perspective on the conflict. It also got me thinking about some other books about World War II I have read recently and enjoyed.


Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler & Stalin by Timothy Snyder: One of the best works I've read about the complex power dynamics between Germany and Russia and their designs on the territories situated between them. Bloodlands illustrates that the German ideology of Lebensraum, by which colonization eventually led to mass murder of Slavic people to the east, was rooted in a much longer history, and helps us better understand how such Nazi atrocities as the Holocaust came to pass. However, the massive work examines numerous lesser known German and Russian policies of murder and genocide including the Soviet famines such as the Holodomor, during which an estimated 10 million Ukrainians perished. No other book I've encountered discusses the vast scope of the horrors committed by both countries during this period, with Snyder estimating civilian deaths around 14 million.

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Year Zero: A History of 1945 by Ian Burma: This book explores the complicated history of how the war ended and what happened afterward. How did the conquerors treat the conquered? How did citizens of occupied countries forgive and learn to live with their fellow citizens who collaborated with the enemy? Why did some choose to collaborate? How did the destruction of their infrastructures change their economies? And, most interesting, how did the fallout of World War II create the Europe and Asia of today. Burma is an engaging writer who does a remarkable job of clearly explaining complicated concepts. This book distilled a vast amount of information about both fronts of the war and made for an enjoyable read.


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The Winds of War (1971) and  War & Remembrance (1978) by Herman Wouk: Undoubtedly the best works of WWII fiction, both volumes are filled with compelling characters and explore such historical subjects as FDR's Lend Lease program and the plight of Jews who did not escape occupied territories before the Nazis began transporting them.

A Fierce Radiance: A Novel by Lauren Belfer (2011): This work of fiction is really about the development of antibiotics during World War II but it gives us a taste of what life would have been like in the U.S. during the war, while examining the civilian war effort and the ways the development of penicillin changed the trajectory of the conflict. Great read! (I also loved her book City of Light about the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.)

What WWII books would you recommend?


Dutch Colonial Architecture on New Paltz's Historic Huguenot Street

Ever since reading The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by  Russell Shorto, I have been fascinated by the history of the Dutch in America. That fabulous book (read it if you haven't!) focuses on the island of Manhattan, as the title indicates. But while New York City has paved over most vestiges of its Dutch past, just a few hours north of the city, an entire Dutch colonial settlement survives intact.

New Paltz, New York's Huguenot Street is one of the oldest continuously occupied settlements in the United States. First occupied by American Indians, in 1678 French protestant John Calvin, purchased the land now referred to as Huguenot Street after fear of persecution in France led them to flee to first Germany and then, in the 1660s and 1670s, to the religiously tolerant Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.

On a plot of land purchased from Esopus Indians, the Huguenot pioneers built a community which included farms, orchards, and a church. The initial wooden structures were replaced by stone buildings in the Dutch colonial style. Unlike traditional Dutch architecture, many of these structures are modified so the gable ends do not front the street. Their interiors, which I did not have the opportunity to see, also retain New World innovations. Historically important details include the Jean Hasbrouck House's original (1722) jamb-less fireplace which is remarkably one of only three extant in America. Read more about it here.

The historic importance of this community was recognized as early as the 1890s when a non-profit organization was founded to purchase and preserve the buildings in situ. Huguenot Street is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark District covering 10 acres and including 30 buildings of which seven are stone houses dating to the beginning of the 18th century.

 The reconstructed 1717 French Reformed Church

The cemetery containing the tombstones of some of the original settlers

The DuBois stone "fort house" was built by one of the original settlers, Louis DuBois, whose descendants still live in the area

 Another view of the DuBois house

Unfortunately, I only have this side view of the Bevier House, built in 1698

 This Greek Revival church was built in 1839 but its congregation dates from 1683. Read more about its history here

Abraham Hasbrouck House circa 1721


Here are a few more shots of Huguenot Street from the beautiful early spring day that I visited:

 To support Historic Huguenot Street and learn about tours visit www.huguenotstreet.org.

Copyright 2016 Antiquarianation All Rights Reserved

Bookseller profile: Honey & Wax

A few weeks ago, while shopping at The Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair (a.k.a. the Shadow Show), I came across a relatively new antiquarian bookseller -- Honey & Wax Booksellers -- and was blown away by their carefully curated booth and beautiful catalogue (which has already gotten some buzz, excuse the pun).


Heather O'Donnell founded Honey & Wax Booksellers in 2011, after learning the business at the venerable Bauman Rare Books. Wanting to focus solely on literature, she started Honey & Wax in her Brooklyn dining room and has since carved out a unique niche for herself in the book world. As her website states, "Honey & Wax Booksellers offers great works of literature: rare first printings, beautiful and curious editions, copies with surprising stories of their own. We handle unique books, striking books, books with no downloadable equivalent." 

The name "Honey & Wax" is itself drawn from a nineteenth-century epigram: “use books as bees use flowers." O'Donnell also addresses the conventional wisdom that books are dead in the introduction to her catalogue. "Our easy access to digital text makes us more aware of the qualities unique to the printed book. Some people rarely miss those qualities. Others really do. As artifacts, books communicate more than the words on their pages in type and design, materials and construction, they remind us that ours is not the only historical moment. They satisfy our desire to own and handle well-made objects, to live among them, to give each other something lasting, rather than simply clicking 'share.'"

Lovers of Shakespeare are never going to own a first folio but at Honey & Wax they can pick up Dramatic Characters of Different Portraits of the English Stage, colorfully illustrated and published in London in 1770 (Price $6000) or promotional broadsides for performances of Shakespeare staged in London, New York and Philadelphia in the first half of the 19th century. The posters are beautifully illustrated in O’Donnell’s catalogue and are being offered individually (priced between $500 and $850).

In my conversation with her, O'Donnell said she's “increasingly drawn to unique copies and things that exist around the edge of great literature.” For example her current stock includes a first edition of American poet Wallace Stevens' Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction but she has also acquired a blank sheet of Stevens' letterhead from his job at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company that stands in contrast to poems.

To see more of Honey & Wax's splendid inventory visit their website: http://www.honeyandwaxbooks.com/

Copyright 2013 Antiquarianation All Rights Reserved