“MAY WELL BE THE FIRST POPULAR AMERICAN HISTORIAN ON ANY LARGE SCALE”: EXCEEDINGLY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF BARBER’S FIRST BOOK, HISTORICAL SCENES IN THE UNITED STATES, 1827, WITH FOLDING MAP AND 48 WOODCUT-ENGRAVINGS OF EARLY SETTLERS, THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, FRANKLIN'S KITE EXPERIMENT, AND MUCH MORE
(BARBER, John Warner). Historical Scenes in the United States… Illustrated by numerous Engravings. New-Haven: Monson, 1827. Small octavo (4-1/4 by 6-1/2 inches), contemporary marbled boards rebacked in brown calf gilt; pp. 120. $1500.
First edition of noted 19th-century engraver Barber’s first book, inspired by his travels through America in the 1820s, with folding map of the United States and 48 woodcut-engravings on 16 plates, including scenes of Pocahontas saving Captain John Smith, the Boston Tea Party and major battles of the American Revolution, along with Franklin’s kite experiment, the burning of Washington in the War of 1812, and much more. Very scarce in contemporary three-quarter morocco and marbled boards.
Barber "may well be the first popular American historian on any large scale" (Foreword, Barber's Views, x). On setting up shop in New Haven in the 1820s, he became one of the most important and prolific engravers of the early 19th-century. This work was inspired by his travels through America "interviewing witnesses to local historical events and collecting data from books, newspapers, gravestones and other sources that he thought would yield useful information on the nation's past. He published his findings in Historical Scenes in the United States and illustrated his text with his own engravings of scenes of America's early settlement… Barber was largely self-educated and never claimed to be engaged in rigorous historical scholarship. His work, however, has been valuable to historians, folklorists, and those engaged in American studies. The sheer volume of engravings that he produced makes him a unique figure in the mid-19th century, and the mass of anecdotes that he collected on local levels has been fruitfully mined by later scholars" (ANB). Barber was apprenticed to engraver Abner Reed at 15, where he won praise as "'especially skilled at historical and wood engraving'… He was one of the first artists to carry out a comprehensive visual survey of an entire state… Benson Lossing who came along a decade and a half later credits Barber with providing him with the inspiration to write illustrated histories and historical guidebooks" (Views, xii-xix). With folding map of the United States, title page with woodcut-engraved vignette, and 48 wood-engravings on 16 plates, including Barber's images of Pocahontas saving Captain John Smith, William Penn, colonial resistance to the Stamp Act, the Boston Tea Party, Revolutionary battles and the surrender of Cornwallis, along with Washington's inauguration, Franklin's kite experiment, the burning of Washington in the War of 1812, and much more. Sabin 3320. Allibone I:89. Deane, Catalogue 179. Contemporary prize inscription for William D. Sessions dated 1828; small owner inkstamps of the recipient above title page and first text page. Early marginalia to versos of folding map and a few plate leaves not affecting map or engravings.
Map, plates and text generally fresh with light scattered foxing, early archival repair to map verso, several expert paper repairs, one with light marginal loss to text leaf (13). An extremely good copy, very scarce in contemporary boards.