Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyLost and Found

  • Sun, 11 May 2014 08:42:34    Permalink
    A surprise awaited me when I returned from vacation last Thursday. In truth, it was only a surprise because I had forgotten it was there, but the effect was the same.
    A nasty stack of cartons containing a run of a periodical that, in a weak moment before my departure, I had purchased from a theological library. What was I thinking?

    I was thinking, "A century-long run of The Sailor's Magazine and Naval Journal– a gold mine of maritime history; an unexcavated trove historical nuggets! It's got to be of use to somebody. Then I shelved it,
    cataloged it,
    Seaman's Friend Society. The Sailor's Magazine and Naval Journal/Sailor's Magazine and Seamen's Friend. Vol. 1, 1829 - Vol. 105, 1933.Founded in 1828, the Society's mission was to provide religious, temperance, and general information to merchant and naval sailors. They had branches in major American port cities, ran shelters and savings banks for itinerant sailors (including African Americans), and provided shipboard libraries. They also published a monthly magazine full of articles about the Society and its activities, as well as articles of an uplifting nature. Fortunately, from a modern perspective, these magazines provided a wealth of information about events involving American sailors around the world. Shipwrecks, discoveries, labor issues, political and naval happenings, missionary activities, salty stories and gossip, all contributed to make "The Sailor's Magazine" a repository of arcane maritime facts and news. Paul O'Pecko of the Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport, where the Society's papers reside, calls these magazines "a gold mine of interesting information." This is a nearly intact run of "The Sailor's Magazine and Naval Journal" and "Sailor's Magazine and Seamen's Friend," (its later title). Vol. 1, 1829 - Vol. 105, 1933. Lacking only Vols. 2 and 56. Most are bound in old half calf with boards detached, or solid library buckram, with some individual issues in original printed wrappers. They are from an institutional library, with old library stamps in some volumes, and a library bookplate on the front pastedown of each volume. $1500. (Shipping extra)

    and forgot about it (as much as one can forget about nine linear feet of moldering leather).
    Then, yesterday, as I was cataloging a fascinating broadside about a crime at sea committed by a drink-maddened American sailor, Broadside. A Most Horrid and Barbarous Murder, Committed on the Sea by James Hardy, on the Bodies of John Lewin and Charles Pendleton.Whitechapel: Carpue, Printer, n.d. (ca. 1830s). Printed folio broadside, 15 x 9 1/2 inches, with woodcut illustrations and border. Bound in modern quarter morocco over boards with gilt spine lettering. Rare broadside announcement of a murder at sea committed by twenty-year-old James Hardy aboard the ship "Boston". Hardy, apparently in a drunken fit, killed two of his shipmates while on route from New York to Charleston. He was tried in South Carolina the following year and found not guilty as a result of insanity caused by his drunkenness. An account of the incident with very similar wording appeared in the "Sailor's Magazine" for January, 1835 under the headline, "Awful Effects of Intemperance in a Sailor." (We are offering a long run of this interesting periodical.) Charmingly, the central woodcut depicts a scene of shipboard mayhem involving pistols and cutlasses, none of which figured in this incident - suggesting the illustration was recycled from another source. OCLC shows no libraries holding this broadside, but lists a number of similar scandal sheets published by Carpue between 1831 and 1845. $1000
    a bell went off. Or a light went on – I forget which – and I walked over to the shelf and pulled down the appropriate volume of The Sailor's Magazine, and sure enough, there was an account of the incident

    To be honest, it was an inspirational moment. How much maritime history is lost within the covers of The Sailor's Magazine? How much maritime history is buried in the archives of libraries and museums around the world? It's a sort of Borgesian riddle. Is history history if it's not recorded? Is history history only if the record can be found?

    This put me in mind of a wonderful project launched by my pal CUNY Prof Ammiel Alcalay He runs a graduate project called LOST & FOUND in which he sends his graduate students out prospecting in unexamined corners of the archives of twentieth century American writers. The findings are assembled, edited, and ultimately published by LOST & FOUND, and the results to date have been impressive. Just get a load of the list of literary figures whose archives have been plumbed by Ammiel's gangLike ocean currents bringing nutrients up from the depths of the sea, LOST & FOUND is bringing forth information that will inspire and feed the next generation of scholars.
    Many of those archives, or significant parts of them, have been identified, valued, and placed in their various institutional homes by booksellers like us.

    Every once in a while I remember why I'm doing what I'm doing. It's a good feeling...

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