Here’s a note from an old customer who’d bought something from my last catalog and was looking forward to getting together at the New York Book Fair. Last time there was a New York Fair, we had a drink at Donohue’s and all the good old boys were there, Bruno with his affable, bearish growls, pouring ’em as fast as we could put ’em away. Well, not quite. It was fifteen minutes before the opening of the big show. Fond memories of that last event linger. Hope it wasn’t really the last. And I’m wondering, too, if promoter Sandy Smith got out in one piece. I really admired him taking the chance. Maybe it takes those kind of stones to get to the top, as he certainly has in his field.
Actually, I wasn’t even planning on doing the big show this year, since (presumably for Covid reasons) there was no booth sharing, and I didn’t have enough fresh, unsold material to even begin to fill a whole booth. I was going to do the Marvin Getman shadow show again. Then Marvin bagged it, and I was going to get a suite at the Lombardy a few blocks down Park Ave., and bring a few suitcases full of books, manuscripts and ephemera, and invite my friends up for a drink.
Here’s one of the items you would’ve seen at the Lombardy, but now, instead of visiting me at my hotel, you’ll have to wait until I find enough material to issue another catalog of rares.
Manuscript. Letter-press Copy Book of William D. Howland, New Bedford, September 1876 – April 1877. Bound book of 8 1/2 x 11 inch copy paper, 65 pp. manuscript entries.
These are press copies of letters by W.D. Howland, primarily concerning the Arctic disaster of 1876 in which a dozen ships and fifty men were lost – including 3 ships owned by the Howland family. It was their second large loss in 5 years (the 1871 Arctic disaster having preceded it), and it marked the beginning of the end of the family’s leading role in the whaling trade. As might be expected, most of the letters are concerned with 1876 disaster and its insurance and commercial implications. A few snippets – written mostly to his brothers Richard and Morris, will convey the general tenor. “We were hoping for a good catch and now we have nothing to show for the years work.” William names Howland vessels – the “Onward,” “St. George,” and “Clara Bell.” which have been “formally abandoned” by their owners. He writes further of insurance matters, and of “Stuart the mate of the Desdemona.” “I agree with you about leaving the bowheads alone.” “If Colson will not take the Java we will send old Fish out and let him try Bristol Bay [in the Bering Sea] again.” He also gossips about other owners and captains. “Father is getting quite excited over the idea of a new ship. Swift is going to have two new done by next June and it is said that Bourne is preparing to build a new one in Mattapoisett.” And, on the heels of the Arctic disaster, “Our bark Java arrived in San Francisco yesterday after an eight months cruise with no oil and no bone quite as remarkable a voyage as we ever had.”
The other strand running through these letters is family business, and the two intertwine in a letter of November 21, 1876, in which W.D. writes his brother Dick regarding the eventual replacement of their father as head of affairs – “I feel rather blue about our affairs as a family for I feel that while father is the natural head he has not the strength to direct… I have always had a perfect terror of being at sea with no acknowledged leader… I do dread the issue of a voyage conducted by a prejudiced man entirely unfit to lead.” And, “I had made up my mind not to put any of my money into whaling…” Ultimately, William chose not to pursue the whaling trade and began the family’s long involvement with the textile industry. He also left Quaker faith and became an Episcopalian. Happily, the series ends with William, an enthusiastic yachtsman, enjoying his yacht “Dolphin,”which had been launched the week before. Overall, these letters provide remarkable insight into a historic moment in the whaling industry. $2000