Monday, January 12, 2015

Best. Book. Ever.

A couple of years ago, I came across this amazing book1 and then ferreted it away for safe-keeping after browsing through it for a little while and realizing what a treasure I had come across.

Now, when I write "Best. Book. Ever." this is me we're talking about. So I'm not necessarily talking about the words on the page.2 I'm talking about the book's physical appearance, the interior markings and inscriptions it has accumulated over the years and things that have been tucked away inside in previous decades.

In that context, this book is an absolute gem.

It's going to take multiple posts to work through all the wonderfulness in this 19th century book. But that's OK. We have time, right?

To begin, the 362-page book is titled A Brief History of the United States. It was part of the Barnes Historical Series and was published by A.S. Barnes & Company of New York and Chicago.

A.S. Barnes & Company existed as a publishing company from roughly 1840 until 1982, so its history was bookended by the end of the Martin Van Buren administration and the St. Louis Cardinals' seven-game victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series.3

The company founder was Connecticut native Alfred Smith Barnes, who was known as "The General" and was a major benefactor of Cornell University. A.S. Barnes focused on publishing textbooks in its early decades, and A Brief History of the United States was one of its most notable titles. It was first published in 1871 and then revised in 1879, 1990 and 1885. The book featured here is the 1885 edition.

No authors are listed on the title or copyright pages. But there is an 1885 preface signed with the initials J.D.S., and Joel Dorman Steele (1836-1886) is cited in some places as the author of the A Brief History of the United States.

So let's get to the cover. Here's a closer look...

So much hand-crafted design work, the likes of which you rarely see today, went into this cover, which has stood the test of 130 years relatively well. Here's a closer look at those three circular elements across the top, which state Barnes Historical Series...

So much cool stuff already, and we haven't even opened it up yet...


1. The book was in a box of excess/unwanted inventory that we purchased from a local book dealer.
2. Those are important, too, of course.
3. As another aside, A.S. Barnes & Company was the publisher of The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball in 1951, one of the sport's early comprehensive reference books.

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