The story begins in 1848, an annus mirabilis in the tale of Charles Lamb’s library. This was the year in which 60 lots of Lamb’s books came up for sale in New York. (The 60 lots comprised more than 136 titles in total.) The lots appeared in a private sale on the premises of the Astor House booksellers Bartlett & Welford in the first part of the year. The booksellers claimed that the books were selected from the mass of Lamb’s books and ‘the remainder destroyed … so that no other such opportunity can offer to the admirers of C. Lamb, for securing a memento of their favorite author.’ Then, in October, 1848, 17 lots bought by John T. Annan of Cincinnati in the Bartlett & Welford sale were auctioned by the New York firm of Cooley, Keese, & Hill. Unlike collectors across the Atlantic, American book collectors had a special affection for Lamb, his writings, and his books, and were willing to pay strong prices.
The distinct character of this American passion for Lamb is brilliantly recounted in Book Madness: A Story of Book Collectors in America by Denise Gigante (Stanford; Princeton PhD. 2000), recently published by Yale University Press.
The head note in Catalogue of Charles Lamb’s library, for sale by Bartlett & Welford, booksellers and importers, 7 Astor House, New York states
>> During the long illness of Miss Lamb, the collection of books that had formed the solace and delight of her brother’s life, met with neglect and partial dispersion among his friends; at her death the following volumes were selected from the mass as worthy of preservation, containing notes, &c., by the late possessor, and the remainder destroyed—so that no other such opportunity can offer to the admirers of C. Lamb, for securing a memento of their favorite author. The notes, remarks, &c., referred to and quoted in inverted commas, in the following list, are warranted to be all in the autograph of Lamb (except when otherwise mentioned), and it will be seen that many of his most favorite works are there; no attempt has been made to re-clothe his “shivering folios;” they are precisely in the state in which he possessed and left them. <<
Bartlett & Welford didn’t disclose who made the selection of the 60 items. From Book Madness,(p. 42) we learn that it was Charles Moxon, Lamb’s publisher and husband of Lamb’s adopted daughter, Emma, who had inherited the books. Moxon was quite familiar with the enthusiasm in America for Lamb, and in the autumn of 1847 he worked out a deal with Charles Welford to market the books in America (p. 52). The February 5, 1848 issue of Literary World announced ‘These books, which Lamb so loved that they seemed a part of himself, have been plucked from the smoke of London, deracinated from the pavements of Cockneydom, and now they are in the Astor House, all written over in the margin by Coleridge and Southey and Lamb himself. What will their fate be now?’
Evidently during February and perhaps in some following months Bartlett & Welford sold all the lots and a record of the buyers and prices is recorded in the Princeton copy of the catalogue, a gift from Charles Scribner, Class of 1913, as part of his Lamb collection.
Of the 60 lots, the following are now at Princeton
Ben Jonson, Works (London, 1692).
“The blank leaves, margins &c., are filled with extracts from the old Dramatists and early English Writers, with additional poems, corrections of the Text & co. &c., in Charles Lamb’s early hand-writing, forming a most curious and valuable memento of his favorite studies.” (Bartlett & Welford, 1848). Provenance:
• Lot 20 at Bartlett & Welford’s private sale of Lamb’s books (February, 1848) purchased by George Templeton Strong for 25 dollars.
• Lot 904 at Bang’s sale of George T. Stong’s books (New York, 1878)
• Lot 964 at Bangs’s sale of the library of Charles W. Frederickson (New York, 1897). Sold to Charles Scribner’s Sons for $375.
• Christie’s NY, Dec. 14, 2000, lot 104 (“Property of a Gentleman”) via James Cummins to Pirie.
• Collection of Robert S. Pirie, Sotheby’s NY, 2 Dec. 2015, lot 987, to Princeton. (Call number: RHT 17th-739a RHT / Digitized )
John Suckling, Fragmenta Aurea (London, 1646) “Charles Lamb’s copy, with mss notes from Aubrey’s Lives, Notes, & co.” (Bartlett & Welford, 1848). Provenance:
• Lot 48 at Bartlett & Welford’s private sale of Lamb’s books (February, 1848) purchased by Horatio Woodman for 5 dollars.
• Lot 960 at Bangs’s sale of the library of Charles W. Frederickson (New York, 1897), sold to Frank Howard Dodd and Edward S. Mead for $270.
• Henry Bache Smith (collector), A Sentimental Library ([New York], Privately Printed, 1914) p. 148
• Halsted B. Vander Poel (Christie’s London, 3 March 2004, lot 106). via Quaritch to Pirie.
• Collection of Robert S. Pirie, Sotheby’s NY, 2 Dec. 2015, lot 988 to Princeton. (Call number RHT-551A / Digitized )
The history of Philip de Commines, knight, Lord of Argenton.
“With interesting MS notes by Charles Lamb at the commencement and ‘Memorabilia’ by Coleridge at the end on the free towns and republics of the Middle Ages & c.” (Bartlett & Welford, 1848). Provenance:
• Lot 59 at Bartlett & Welford’s private sale of Lamb’s books (February, 1848) purchased by George Templeton Strong for 10 dollars.
• Lot 374 at Bang’s sale of George T. Stong’s books (New York, 1878)
• Lot 960 at Bangs’s sale of the library of Charles W. Frederickson (New York, 1897), sold for $135.
• Charles Scribner’s Sons subsequently purchased it for $180.
• Henry Bache Smith (collector), A Sentimental Library ([New York], Privately Printed, 1914) p. 146
• A.S.W. Rosenbach (bookseller) then sold to Princeton, June 1947. (Call number: Ex 1509.146.26.11q / Digitized ) N. B. See article about this book by Prof. Jeremiah Finch published in the Princeton University Library Chronicle at https://www.jstor.org/stable/26401659
Old Plays & c. spine title on a sammelband consisting of 12 items Lamb lists the contents on the front pastedown. Provenance:
• Lot 54 in the Bartlett & Welford sale catalogue, but there described as ‘Tracts, Miscellaneous, 1 thick volume, 12mo. Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures, and Poetical and Historical Inventions, by William Blake, 1809. Lord Rochester’s Poems, Lady Winchelsea’s Poems, C. Lamb’s Confessions of a Drunkard, with Corrections, &c., Southey’s Wat Tyler, &c. 12 tracts, with MS list of contents.’ Sold to John T. Annan for $6.
• Lot 376 in Cooley, Keese, & HIll, Catalogue of a private library, embracing a large collection of rare and valuable works in early English literature; … and eighteen volumes from the library of Charles Lamb. New York, 1848. Sale consisted of books from the Library of John T. Annan of Cincinnati. Sold to Campbell for $4.25 (per priced copy of the catalogue at the American Antiquarian Society; thanks to Elizabeth Pope who supplied images of the pages for lots 359 to 376, headed in black letter ‘Charles Lamb’s Books.’)
• Seven Gables Bookshop (NY) to Robert H. Taylor, February 1972. Taylor legacy to Princeton in 1985. (Call number: RHT 19th-305)