Wednesday, August 2, 2017

ABC 1818

As a medieval scholar, I confess to having often thought that the world of printed books was one where the discoveries had all been made: that there were, of course, rare printed books, but that bibliographers and catalogues must have long ago sorted out what books had been printed, and where, and when.

And yet, in only a few years of working in this business full time, I've surprised myself more than once to find a new imprint, or an unrecorded variant, even among printed American books. I suppose this is because such books have not been well collected--or at least they have not been collected for as many years as older books and incunabula have.


High-German Reformed ABC
(Philadelphia: Zentler, 1818).
My post today involves a recent acquisition that turned out to be a minor and apparently unrecorded variant of a book that was already known.  The book itself is a Pennsylvania German primer or ABC, the mid-Atlantic German equivalent of the New England Primer, perhaps. 

This particular version of this book, from 1818, was printed by Conrad Zentler, "Für Daniel Brautigam." It is, I was glad to find, a fairly scarce imprint: WorldCat appears to record only three copies of this particular edition in institutional collections.

A closer look at the WorldCat entry, however gave me pause: the online bibliography describes the book as having 32 pages, and this copy, in fact, has 36 pages. [In both my book and the WorldCat description, there are no separate end-papers or pastedowns; printed leaves serve as the pastedowns.]

A closer look at the collation--the structure of the folded, printed pages--showed that my book has an additional bifolium at the front of the book--a conclusion that was obvious: when one opens the book up, there are two fine woodcut illustrations, followed by two blank pages (the unprinted verso of the second leaf of my bifolium, and the unprinted first page of the main book, intended to serve as the pastedown). 


Initial Bifolium; rooster on left, Luther on right.
From the outside, this little book is pretty unassuming. Inside, it is, I think, utterly charming, even if my German isn't quite as good as it ought to be.

For whatever reason, my copy of this book has these added illustrations and text; why it includes these two extra leaves can probably not be determined with any certainty, almost 200 years later now. But what fun to learn about it! And what a fine reminder that even the homeliest covers might hide something rare and unique. What else are books for?
From the outside.







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