Monday, October 27, 2008

Copy of Rare Emerson Broadside Found

In their latest catalog, M & S Rare Books of Providence, RI have a remarkable item: one of just (now) five known copies of a broadsheet edition on satin of Ralph Waldo Emerson's first separate work, his "Letter to the Second Church and Society" (1832). The other copies are at Harvard's Houghton Library (on deposit for the R.W. Emerson Memorial Association), the University of Florida, First and Second Church Unitarian-Universalist in Boston, and the Boston Athenaeum.

M & S' description of the broadside notes "Perhaps the Boston Athenaeum copy was in the trade prior to 1954 [when it was given to the library], but ours might be the only copy ever offered for sale." Three hundred copies of a pamphlet version of this letter were printed (of which just a handful survive), but it is not known how many copies of this broadside edition ever existed. The quote Emerson bibliographer Joel Myerson from his bibliographic entry on the U of FL's copy (from the Parkman Dexter Howe collection): "presumably the broadsides were printed and sent with the compliments of the printer, and were few in number."

Stephen H. Wakeman, a legendary collector of 19th century American writers, said of this text (which he had in pamphlet form) "In some respects, it is the most important document [Emerson] ever penned, it being the parting of the ways, - his valedictory - to his congregation on deciding to relinquish the Ministry and devote himself to other pursuits. It transcends all of his other writings in personal interest, and its extreme rarity makes it one of the most desirable items in this collection."

Not surprisingly, the price tag matches the extreme scarcity of the piece: $75,000. And yet, for what this is, even that seems a bargain.

No comments: