In middle school we were made to memorize the U.S. presidents, in order. Useless busy-work, right? Of course it was. Yet I couldn't help but think of that assignment and the accompanying pop-quiz when I opened the front cover of our copy of The Poetical Works of James Beattie
and saw the bookplate.
Ulysses S. Grant wasn't yet the 18th President of the United States when the citizens of Boston gave him five thousand dollars' worth of books (1866 dollars) to show their appreciation for work well done in the Union Army. The bookplate bears his military title of Lieutenant General; the presidency was three years in his future.
According to the provenance provided with this copy of Beattie's Poetical Works, the people of Boston gave Lieutenant General Grant the books they "thought the great soldier should have in his library."
We can only speculate what Grant thought of Beattie's work, if he ever read it. Because of the book plate, this volume is an association copy. John Carter defines this term as "a copy which once belonged to, or was annotated by, the author; which once belonged to someone connected with the author or someone of interest in his own right...."
A fabulous example of a book that has been annotated by someone connected to the author is our copy of Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World, which bears the (often illegible) ink notations of his father, Increase Mather.
For those who find the Hollywood glamour crowd more fascinating than D.C. politicos or 17th-century witch hunters, we have a copy of Strange Surprising Adventures of the Venerable Gooroo Simple, and His Five Disciples, Noodle, Doodle, Wiseacre, Zany, and Foozle that once belonged to Frank Fay.
Frank who? The man who was once married to this lady:
Though now he's best known as Barbara Stanwyck's first husband, he was a successful comedian in the early 1900s. Some say that the Fay-Stanwyck marriage inspired the story of A Star Is Born. Her career flourished while his fizzled, and they divorced in 1935.
One of the most delicious association copies in the world is an 1854 copy of Thoreau's Walden; Or, Life in the Woods, inscribed by Thoreau to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Unfortunately it's not part of our inventory; it is part of the collection of the Concord Free Public Library.
Association copies ? especially when annotated ? command higher prices than copies that are merely signed or inscribed. How much more valuable are they? There's no formula to determine the price, as each copy is unique. These one-of-a-kind copies inspire fascination because they bring us a few degrees closer to the authors (or personalities) we study and admire.