Collecting Delaware Books

A Delaware Collector's Reference Shelf

by Thomas E. Doherty

When one begins to form a collection, whatever its theme, the limits of that collection are very often vague and undefined. My own book collecting began only after I had assembled a small group of what I considered interesting books and found myself, in the reading of those books, being referred to other books. These references were made in the text or textual notes in these books and in their select bibliographies. It was when I began to seek out and acquire some of these books that my "group of interesting books" became a collection.

My initial search was for books concerning New Sweden and for books about the Du Pont Company, but as I continued to read and collect, I found myself searching for Delaware books on an ever-widening range of topics.

As one's interest in collecting Delaware books progresses, whatever its origins or how wide or narrow its focus, it is likely that one will want to know about all the books (and booklets and pamphlets) that have been published in one's area of interest. A search of the card catalogs, databases, and shelves of the State Archives in Dover, the Historical Society of Delaware Library in Wilmington, and the University of Delaware Library in Newark is a great way to learn about what is available, but here I propose to write about the books and other printed sources which in themselves are the basic reference tools for the collector. This essay will certainly not be exhaustive of all the sources of information, but I hope it will encourage the idea of systematic searching for Delaware books.

The two essential reference books for the Delawareana collector are bibliographies: A Bibliography of Delaware Through 1960 by H. Clay Reed and Marion Bjornson Reed and Bibliography of Delaware 1960-1974 compiled by members of the reference department of the University of Delaware Library. The Reed & Reed bibliography lists 4,778 books and other printed items and, while descriptions of the books are not provided, it is an excellent checklist. The book was published in a limited edition of 500 copies. The University of Delaware bibliography was published as a supplement to the Reed & Reed bibliography. It contains 2,284 entries and, despite its title, even lists books which were published before 1960 and omitted from Reed & Reed. The books in these bibliographies are listed by subject categories. Both have useful indexes.

Other important bibliographical references are the periodic listings in "Delaware History" magazine (published by the Historical Society of Delaware) of books on Delaware history. These lists effectively serve as updates to the two aforementioned bibliographies. Together these sources are the cornerstones of a Delaware collector's reference shelf.

Some other bibliographical works which are helpful are those that focus on a particular subject. Paul William Kelly wrote a little booklet entitled New Castle, Delaware, a Bibliography in Commemoration of the Tercentenary of the Founding of New Castle. Delaware Family Histories and Genealogies, compiled by Donald Odell Virden, is a very useful checklist. Collectors of Delawareana (and collectors of the writings of C. A. Weslager) will welcome having a copy of the article entitled "Bibliography of the Writings of C. A. Weslager" which appeared in the "Bulletin of the Philadelphia Anthropological Society" volume 30 1978.

Those who are interested in early printing in Delaware and who collect books, pamphlets, and broadsides because of their Delaware imprints (the notices in books which state the printer's or publisher's name) will know that Evald Rink's book Printing in Delaware, 1761-1800 is the essential guide. Rink's checklist has 566 entries and is well indexed. The story of one particular book listed, John Filson's The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke … (Rink no.182), is so interesting that a 38-page article was written about it and published in "The Filson Club History Quarterly," a reference work, in effect, for just a single title.

Those who collect the literature, poetry , plays, children's books, and works of fiction on Delaware subjects or by Delaware authors will have a hard time finding references for these topics. The Reed & Reed bibliography explicitly excludes these books with few exceptions, and the periodic Historical Society of Delaware bibliographies also exclude them. There are, however, a few good places to start: Delaware, A History of the First State, edited by H. Clay Reed, contains a chapter written by Augustus H. Able, III, entitled "Delaware Literature." Able discusses many publications under the following headings: historical fiction, romantic fiction, realistic fiction, non-fictional prose, and poetry .

J. Thomas Scharfs History of Delaware, 1609-1888 has a chapter on the "Press of Delaware" and therein makes mention of several books by Delaware authors.

Some Delaware literary figures have had their works systematically explained in print. One person is the playwright, novelist, and poet Dr. Robert Montgomery Bird (1806-1854) of New Castle. Clement E. Foust's The Life and Dramatic Works of Robert Montgomery Bird contains a useful bibliography, as does Curtis Dahl's Robert Montgomery Bird. But the best technical bibliography of Bird will be found in the first volume of Jacob Blanck's Bibliography of American Literature. Ruthanna Hindes' book George Alfred Townsend contains an annotated list of the literary works of this Georgetown-born journalist, playwright, and poet.

Collectors of the works written by or illustrated by Felix Octavious Carr Darley of Claymont can consult Sinclair Hamilton's important catalogue Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers. Hamilton affords Darley the honor of being the first noteworthy American book illustrator. Another important American author and illustrator is Howard Pyle of Wilmington. Willard S. Morse and Gertrude Brinckle compiled a bibliography entitled Howard pyle, A Record of His Illustrations and Writings.

Issues of the poetry annuals Delaware Poets, edited by David Hudson et al. and published in the 1940's and 1950's by the Wilmington Poetry Society, are helpful in learning the titles of various books and anthologies of poetry written by Delawareans.

The newsletter you are reading, Collecting Delaware Books, regularly publishes checklists of the books of specific Delaware authors or of book categories.

One other source for learning about books written by Delawareans, especially literary works and privately published books (which often fall through the cracks of "official" bibliography) are obituary pages of newspapers. Writing a book is usually important enough to be mentioned among the achievements of a person's life.

Another source for learning about Delaware books are catalogues issued by libraries for particular thematic exhibitions. A few examples will suffice. In 1988, the University of Delaware Library mounted an exhibition of books and manuscripts for the 350th anniversary of the Swedes and Finns in Delaware. A catalogue compiled by Gary E. Yela and entitled New Sweden was published to accompany the exhibition.

More than 35 years earlier, the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., organized an exhibition and published a catalogue in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Castle. This catalogue is entitled Old New Castle and Modern Delaware. Annotated exhibition catalogues, such as the two described above, are helpful because, in addition to simply listing titles, they describe why particular books are important or why others are preferred sources of information.

The final group of books I will discuss are quick and easy-to-use references for Delaware history, places, and events. Delaware, A Guide to the First State compiled by the Federal Writer's Project in 1938 is a handy reference for both state and local history. Even though it was published more than 50 years ago, it is the first book I would recommend to a new collector. (I keep a reading copy in my car.) Delaware Place Names by L. W. Heck et al., A Gazetteer of Delaware by Henry Gannett, and A Postal History of Delaware by Harvey Cochran Bounds all help one locate Delaware place names and to learn about those which are no longer in use but which are found in books or printed matter.

The maps in D. C. Beers' Atlas of the State of Delaware even show the names and locations of farmsteads. This book is also useful for learning the names of old-Iine Delaware families. Being able to recognize these names often helps one to spot books written by a Delaware author. Delaware Bookplates by Henry I. Law is essential to anyone who collects bookplates of Delawareans.

The pursuit of Delaware books involves more than just visiting the Americana section of book shops or browsing booksellers' catalogues. To build a broad and interesting collection, one must look beyond the obvious. The obscure title or the unrecorded booklet is equally capable of shedding light on the history of Delaware and its people as the book cited in every bibliography. Use the reference books I have cited, but learn to read between their lines as well. — TAD

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