Collecting Delaware Books

The Delaware Federal Writers' Project


The Great Depression of the 1930s was not a totally unmitigated evil. We still enjoy treasures created in this period. With unemployment four times higher than the current recession and lasting four times longer, the government put millions of people to work on projects for the common good. Highways, bridges, electrical power networks, and public buildings were built by those who would have otherwise gone hungry.

Cultural activities were not ignored. Artists painted murals and compiled the Index of American Design. Playwrights and actors, like Orson Welles and John Houseman, were sustained on government funds. The Farm Security Administration photographers produced great documentary pictures. Musicians were formed into orchestras that toured schools and small towns. Book lovers are indebted to the government-funded Federal Writers' Project. Delaware collectors profited more than those of most other states: three Federal Writers' Project titles deal with our state.

Delaware: A Guide to the First State

Between 1937 and 1942, the 51 state books of the American Guide Series were produced, one for each of the, then, 48 states as well as Washington, D. C., and the territories of Alaska and Puerto Rico. Hawaii is the only one of the present states omitted. About 20 different publishers were involved. Delaware: A Guide to the First State was the tenth in the series, having been released in conjunction with the Swedish-American Delaware Tercentenary Celebration on June 27, 1938, by the Viking Press of New York. It was edited by Jeannette Eckman, Anthony Higgins, and William H. Conner.

woodlawn near smyrna
John Moll drawing,
Woodlawn near Smyrna, later the
Thomas England House restaurant

This first edition is in cloth-covered boards. It has a pictorial dust jacket and a loose map in a pocket on its own hinge in the back. The book consists of 25 pages of front matter and 549 pages of text. There are many photographs by W. S. Stewart and others and a number of striking drawings by John Moll. The first quarter of the book is a general description of Delaware and its people. The second quarter includes descriptions of Arden, Dover, Lewes, Milford, Newark, New Castle, Rehoboth, and Wilmington. The remainder details 16 highway tours of Delaware and includes an immense amount of local detail.

The first edition, first printing is said to have been an issue of 10,000. There are two binding states. The first-state binding is blue cloth with gold lettering. The second-state binding is smooth tan cloth with black lettering. One principal reference says most first edition copies were sold through Alice Steinlein's Greenwood Book Shop in Wilmington, but my copy bears a label from Books, Inc. of San Francisco.

Hastings House of New York issued a second printing in 1948 in gray cloth with dark blue lettering. It was essentially identical to the first in other respects, except the map pocket is fixed on the rear pastedown.

In 1955, Hastings House published a second edition, greatly revised by Jeannette Eckman. The folded map in the pocket was replaced by sectional maps bound as text.

weaving in arden
Craft Weaving in Arden DE

Somerset Publishing of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, issued a facsimile of the Viking edition in 1973 in orange cloth with black lettering and no dust jacket. It is badly printed and bound. Pictures are muddy, the text is gray, and pages tend to fall out. It may still be in print and available for $89. A collector wishing to have an example of each edition and state might want this book, but it is inadequate for other uses.

Copies of the first edition, first printing, in fine condition with map and dust jacket often retail at $60 to $90. Minor defects may reduce this to $30 to $50. It is not common to find a copy of any edition for less than $20 to $30, even when lacking a dust jacket. A missing map is a major defect. Prices will generally be lower at out-of-state bookshops.

Delaware: A Guide to the First State is a wonderful book to take traveling. Following one of the tours will show how many ways the state has changed and how many ways it is still the same. Indeed, the entire American Guide Series is this way. I have used the guides for West Virginia and Missouri on auto trips and discovered things local residents were unaware of.

New Castle on the Delaware

Although this is considered to be a minor book and not included in the state list of the American Guide Series, New Castle on the Delaware was one of the first Federal Writers' Project books to appear. All editions were published by the New Castle Historical Society, but there is some confusion about edition numbering. The first edition was published in December, 1936. It is usually seen in monochrome pictorial wraps. However, there was a hardcover issue, described by several references as "exceedingly rare." (See update below.) There are 142 pages of text and eight of front matter, drawings by Albert Kruse, and many photos by W. Lincoln Highton and others. The eight-page index is unpaginated.

Presbyterian Church in New Castle
Presbyterian Church in New Castle

The stated second edition is dated April, 1937, and includes minor changes, corrections, two new illustrations, and typographical changes on the cover. Roman numerals are added to the index pages. The words "American Guide Series" appear on the half-title page. The wraps are similar to the first edition except for the title calligraphy.

The third edition is called the Dutch Tercentenary Edition and is dated April, 1950. It includes changes and additions by Jeannette Eckman. Several photos are retaken. There are 151 pages of text. The wraps are the same as the second edition. The title page lists this and all previous editions and numbers them first, second, and third. The importance of this becomes apparent in the next paragraph.

The next edition had printings in 1973 and 1974 and includes all new photographs, 175 pages of text rewritten by Anthony Higgins, and full-color pictorial wraps. This issue does not state an edition number on the title page. However, it prominently lists the 1936 and 1950 editions by date and ignores the 1937 edition. On the title page, Higgins is identified as the editor of "this" edition. In the book's introduction, Higgins refers to it as "this 1973 edition." However, in the book's foreword, Edward W. Cooch, Jr., President of the New Castle Historical Society, starts out, "The publication of this Third Edition of ...." By Higgins' implication and Cooch's statement, this would appear to be a third edition. It is, however, truly the fourth edition both by established precedent and by virtue of the magnitude of changes in previous issues.

Copies of New Castle on the Delaware in wraps generally sell in the $15 to $40 range. The book is an excellent resource for a walking tour of old New Castle. I can not find a record of a price for a hardbound copy of the first edition, but it would be a prize.

The Ocean Highway

Written by Katherine A. Kellock, who created the tour concept for the American Guide Series, The Ocean Highway describes a tour from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Jacksonville, Florida. Its sponsor was Charles L. Terry, Jr., then Delaware's Secretary of State. It includes 244 pages of text (36 on Delaware), many photographs, and a foldout map attached to the rear pastedown. The cover is gray pictorial, cloth and there is an illustrated dust jacket.

One interesting aspect is the discussion of regional foods. Delaware dishes are listed, including soft-shelled crab sandwich, hog jowl and turnip green, and peninsula succotash. It says this succotash is only found south of Dover and consists of fresh corn, lima beans, tomatoes, and salt pork.

The first and only edition was published in 1938 by Modern Age Books, New York, at 95 cents. Publishers' Weekly reported it was remaindered in May of 1940. Copies sell today in the $10 to $25 range and are easy to find.

Further Information

Information for this article came from my own records, several collectors, and a catalog published by Schoyer's Books, 1404 S. Negley Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217, titled The American Guide Series: Works of the Federal Writers' Project [1990], which has 176 pages of detailed information. (See update below.) It is the best reference readily available on the bibliographic history of these books. Schoyer's also maintains an excellent stock of Federal Writers' Project books. World War II brought an end to the Federal Writers' Project as well as the Great Depression, leaving several hundred million words of manuscript material unpublished and largely unedited. An attempt was made to archive this. Much of it was deposited at state facilities, and no national cataloging was done. The Schoyer's catalog reports that the fate of these manuscripts is generally unknown. The University of Delaware was the repository in Delaware.

Collectors attempting to locate copies of books described above face one bibliographic problem. Dealers and librarians catalog books by author, but it is unclear how to list these books. Delaware: A Guide to the First State is variously listed under Eckman, Jeannette (the first editor alphabetically), Federal Writers' Project, Delaware Federal Writers' Project, or Works Progress Administration. All one can do is make inquiries under all variations. — JPR


The original article was published in 1992. The following updates the information to 2015.

We used the miracle of modern Internet book search to try to find a hardback copy of the 1936 New Castle on the Delaware mentioned in the article. None was found, though hardback copies of the 1937 and 1950 editions are relatively common.

Schoyer's Books is no longer in Pittsburgh. In 1996 it moved to California. The firm deals in Americana, especially ephemera and Western material. Federal Writers' Project books are still a specialty, but owner Marc Selvaggio says demand outpaces supply. An almost yearly catalog of FWP books is mailed to active customers only. Marc has no copies of the definitive 1990 catalog, but says it is still a useful reference. Schoyer's Books, PO Box 9471, Berkeley CA 94709, (510) 548-8009. There is no Web site.

In 2006, the Delaware Heritage Commission reprinted Delaware: A Guide to the First State. It is available for $15 in softback, $25 in hardback.

As of 2015, Woodlawn or Thomas England House has been vacant and for sale for a number of years.

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