Collecting Delaware Books
[This article was published in April 1996. © John P Reid]
Two issues ago, we asked readers to submit lists of their favorite Delaware books. The criteria for selection was left to each person. Books could be listed for their rarity, historical interest, literary quality, monetary value, artistic merit, or any other characteristic the reader thought important.
The books could be about Delaware, written by Delawareans, or even be fiction set in Delaware. Again, it was up to the reader to decide what was a Delaware book.
Several dozen readers nominated several hundred books. Originally billed as the "Top Ten," the project ran into a statistical snag: there was no clear top ten. Instead, there was a top eight followed by nine runners up.
Another complication was that several people listed "any book by" their favorite author. These were hard to tabulate fairly, so they were left out. Authors most often named this way were Carol E. Hoffecker, John A. Munroe, H. Clay Reed, Christopher L. Ward, and C. p; A. Weslager.
So here are the winners. The top eight are listed in order of vote count, starting with the most popular.
J. Thomas Scharf: History of Delaware, 1608-1888. 1888. This landmark history is sought for both its value to collectors and its historical and genealogical record. Everything written previously by historians such as Ferris and Vincent was included, and every Delaware historian since has drawn from it. A modern reprint with a superior index is available, but it can not match the beauty of the two-volume original in red leather.
Delaware Federal Writers Project: Delaware: A Guide to the First State. 1938. This book is one of the best of the American Guide Series. It has been revised several times, and the current edition is available but in an inferior binding.
C. A. Weslager: Delaware's Forgotten Folk. 1943. The author's first book. For most people it stands as a symbol of the total output of his 50 years of historical writing.
Elizabeth Montgomery: Reminiscences of Wilmington. 1851. A charming book covering Wilmington from the Revolution to midcentury. The 1872 edition is said to be rare. A facsimile reprint was issued in 1971.
J. M. Runk & Co.: Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware. 1899. Valued for its beauty and the biographical information.
George F. Bennett: Early Architecture of Delaware. 1932. Over 300 pictures make this book a priceless resource. A reprint by Bonanza is available.
Katharine Pyle: Once Upon a Time in Delaware. 1911. A Delaware gem, written for children. It includes a disclaimer of complete accuracy. The local interest is increased because it was edited by Emily P. Bissell and illustrated by Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach. There is a 1927 second edition and several reprints.
George Alfred Townsend: The Entailed Hat. 1884. This novel set in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore has been reprinted numerous times.
The nine runners up are listed here in alphabetical order by author.
D. G. Beers: Atlas of the State of Delaware. 1868. Originally published for use by tax assessors, this is the costliest book among common Delaware collectibles. Several reprints have been issued, but none have the hand-colored maps of the original.
Henry Seidel Canby: The Age of Confidence. 1934. Life among the upper middle class in Wilmington at the beginning of this century.
Francis A. Cooch: Little Known History of Newark, Delaware, and Its Environs. 1936. Not a history of Newark, but rather the story of automobile rambles in northern Delaware and southeast Pennsylvania.
William P. Frank: Bill Frank's Delaware. A collection of the writings of this popular newspaper reporter and columnist.
Anna T. Lincoln: Wilmington, Delaware: Three Centuries Under Four Flags. 1937. Written as a high school text.
Elisabeth Meg: Packet Alley. 1951. Juvenile fiction with a historical theme, set in old New Castle.
Charles A. Silliman: A Time to Remember: 1920-1960. Valued for its early Wilmington photographs. This book has risen spectacularly in price in the last decade.
C. A. Weslager: Brandywine Springs. 1949. The current interest in Brandywine Springs has made this book more popular than some other Weslager favorites.
Frank R. Zebley: The Churches of Delaware. 1940. This compendium of existing congregations is invaluable for research. It has become rare and valuable. One story says the author burned all the unsold copies when the public did not buy them.
The following books were listed by more than one reader. They are presented here alphabetically by author.
Ayres: The Hotel Du Pont Story 1911-1981.
Max Adeler: Out of the Hurly-Burly.
Stanley Arthurs: The American Historical Scene.
Gilbert Byron: Delaware Poems.
Robert G. Caldwell: Red Hannah.
Henry Seidel Canby: The Brandywine.
Benjamin Ferris: History of the Original Settlements on the Delaware.
Crawford H. Greenewalt: Hummingbirds.
A. O. H. Grier: This Was Wilmington.
Harold B. Hancock: Delaware During the Civil War.
H. Clay Reed: Delaware: A History of the First State.
Nancy C. Sawin and Janice M. Carper: Delaware Sketchbook.
Ella M. Tybout: Poketown People.
Christopher L. Ward: The Delaware Continentals.
C. A. Weslager: The Garrett Snuff Mill Fortune.
The following books, alphabetical by author, were mentioned by only one person but still represent important collectibles.
Abbott: Howard Pyle Chronicle.
Baldwin: The Brandywine: A Pictorial History.
Benson: Peter Kalm's Travels in North America.
Bevan: History of Delaware, Past and Present.
Biggs: Seven Days Whipping.
Bleeker: The Delaware Indians.
Booth: Memoir of the Geological Survey of the State of Delaware.
Bush: What and How: A Practical Cookbook for Everyday Living.
Byron: These Chesapeake Men.
Caley: Postcards of Yesteryear 1893-1926: Delaware and Elsewhere.
Cann: Coast to Coast with the Airmail.
Carter: Clearing New Ground: Life of John G. Townsend, Jr.
Catalog of Pen Sketches and Watercolors by Robert Shaw.
Caulk: Some Common Birds of Delaware.
Conrad: History of the State of Delaware.
Cooch: The Battle of Cooch's Bridge.
Crownfield: Proud Lady.
Delaware Tercentenary Almanack.
Dill: Cemetery Records of Kent County, Del.
Dorman: Delaware Cabinetmakers and Related Artists.
DuPont: Campaign of 1864 in the Valley of Virginia.
Eckman: Crane Hook on the Delaware.
Every Evening: History of Wilmington.
Ferris: A History of the Original Settlements on the Delaware.
Gates: The du Pont Family.
Goetz: Cooking Dinner with Eleanor Goetz.
Hancock & Downing: Businesses and Industries of Milford, Del., 1787-1987.
Higgins: New Castle, Delaware.
Hindes: Delaware Silversmiths.
Hoffecker: Wilmington, A Pictorial History.
Holcomb: Early Ecclesiastical Affairs in New Castle and History of Immanuel Church.
Hynson: Down Yan and Thereabouts.
James: Alfred I. DuPont: Family Rebel.
Johnson, Katherine: The Golden Thread.
Johnson, Ella.: The Story of Newport [Del.].
Johnson Amandus. : Swedes on the Delaware 1638-64.
Johnson, Amandus.: The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware.
Lewis: The Delaware Scene.
Lofland: Poetical and Prose Writings of the Milford Bard.
Lunt: Tales of the Delaware Bench and Bar.
Lunt: Taylors Gut.
Lunt: The Farmers Bank 1807-1857.
Macdonald: Mispillion-Built Sailing Vessels 1761-1917.
Mariane: Our Yesterday in Brandywine Hundred.
Martin: A History of Delaware Through Its Governors 1776-1984.
McCartea & Jackson: Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware.
Milford New Century Club: Blue Hen's Chickens' Cookbook, 1904.
Minutes of the Council 1776-1792.
Mitchell: Delaware Seacoast Cookbook.
Mitchell: Elaine's What's Cooking.
Mitchell: What's Cooking in Lewes.
Munroe: Colonial Delaware, A History.
Munroe: Federalist Delaware 1775-1815.
Munroe: History of Delaware.
Munroe: Louis McLane.
Munroe: The University of Delaware, A History.
Pepper: Folklore of Sussex County, Delaware.
Phillips: Wildflowers of Delaware and the Eastern Shore.
Pitz: A Brandywine Tradition.
Proceedings of the Assembly of the Lower Counties on Delaware 1770-1776.
Proceedings of the House of Assembly of the Delaware State 1781-1792.
Read, Clyde: The Ferns and Fern Allies of Maryland and Delaware.
Reed, Emily: Two Hundred Years Ago or Life in New Sweden.
Reese: The Horse on Rodney Square.
Rodney: In Buff and Blue.
Seville: History of the First Regiment Delaware Volunteers.
Shomette: The Hunt for the HMS DeBraak.
Slocomb: Inward from the Sea.
Slocomb: Jeweled with Fire.
Sparklin: Big Thursday.
Speck: The Nanticoke and Conoy Indians.
Taber: Delaware Trees.
Townsend: Campaigns of a Non-Combatant.
Trinity Parish Cookbook 1892.
Turner: Some Records of Sussex County, Del.
Tyler: The Bay and River Delaware.
Ward: The Dutch and Swedes on the Delaware.
Weslager: Magic Medicine of the Indians.
Weslager: The Nanticoke Indians.
Professor Augustus H. Able, III, of the University of Delaware offered this list of ten "great" Delaware books in Delaware A History of the First State, edited by H. Clay Reed and published in 1947.
Some of these titles are on the current survey list others are entirely missing or well down in rank. Able's error ("years" for "days") in the title of the Biggs book has always been something of a mystery.
The Wilmington Evening Journal published columnist Bill Franks list of 25 important Delaware books on March 16, 1973. He called them "keystones." Prices were included. He estimated the books would cost at least $1,250. They would cost two or three times this today.
Frank did not actually list 25 books. He lumped the works of C. A.Weslager in one item, and one must assume the collector was to pick four of them to make the total come out right.
Bill Frank probably did more than anyone to popularize the collecting of Delaware books with his frequent newspaper columns and his reports of auctions at Wilson's.