Antiquarian Books and History

  • Antiquarian Book Resources & Online Book Searching
  • Book Fairs
  • Libraries
  • Maps & Cartography
  • Books Online
  • Publishers Online
  • Other Book Related Resources

    I collect books for much the same reason as many people who collect coins, stamps, rocks, or any number of other "collectible" items, "collectible" usually being defined as anything somebody will pay for (I do collect coins and paper currency as well as books). It's one thing to read about history, and quite another to just read history. When you read one of these books, you read history, and one of the keys to my collection is that I am willing to read (and do read) every book in it. I will not acquire any book, no matter how valuable or "collectible" it may be, if it is one I would not wish to read. Hence, my library of several thousand books, and maybe a one or two hundred "antiquarian" books, all concentrated in the areas of interest to me, mostly science, chess, languages, and history, especially military history. I will talk a bit about my books, just because I am interested, and like any good, egotistical web page writer, I want you to be interested in the same things that interest me!

    So this is where I tell you about my books, and why they interest me. Or you can scroll down the page, to all of the neat WWW book and book-related resources. All of the titles below in red are books that I have.


    The oldest book in my collection is Traitez de l'Equilibre des Liqueurs, et de la Pesanteur de la Masse de l'Air ["Treatise on the Equilibrium of liquids, and on the Weight of the Mass of Air"] by Blaise Pascal, A Paris, chez Guillaume Desprez, printed in 1698. I think it is a third edition. This is a book of Pascal's gas laws, the ones every freshman physics/chemistry student learns about. It is the only book I have from the pre-1700 years, though I have reprints of earlier works. Most people consider this primarily a work in chemistry, but it really covers the basic physics of gases as well. Along similar lines, the much later Gravitation: An Elementary Explanation of the Principle Perturbations in the Solar System, by G.B. Airy, 1834, shows that by the early 1800's, physicists were well into understanding the behavior of the solar system in terms of Newton's physics.

    But while Pascal's Traitez is the physically oldest book I have, I do have two others in reprint form that are worth mentioning. De Numeris Datis, by Jordanus de Nemore, appeared in manuuscript form about 1225 A.D. The copy I have is A Critical Edition and Translation by Barnabus Bernard Hughes, from the University of California Press about 1980. Hughes made reference to all 15 existing copies of the manuscript, and provides the original Latin as well as the translation. De Numeris Datis is the first Western European work on "advanced algebra"; though we would call it "high school algebra" today, it was a whole new world for Europe at the time. Indeed, it took over a hundred years for Jordanus' insights to sink into the educated Europeans. De Re Metallica, by Georgius Agricola first appeared in print in 1556, after Agricola had already died. It is commonly considered the first real science book, and it was the only authoritative work on metallurgy for over 200 years. My De Re Metallica is a 1950 Dover reprint of the 1912 translation done for The Mining Magazine, London, by Herbert Clark Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover. That's the same Herbert Hoover who later became President of the United States. Did you know that President Hoover could translate arcane Latin? Did you know he was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a member of the Société des Ingéniéurs Civils de France, and a member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers (which since then has changed its name to the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers)?

    The oldest astronomy book I have is A Popular Grammar of the Elements of Astronomy, Adapted to the Use of Students and Public Schools by Thomas Squire, 1821. Then there's First Book in Astronomy by Rev. J.L. Blake, Boston 1833. It is typical of the older works that they deal almost exclusively with what we now recognize as the solar system; planets, comets, meteors, and such. Aside from the constellations, they rarely dealt with stars. It is not until about the mid 1800's that I start to see some real talk about stars, as objects beyond the realm of the planets. Along those lines, the book The Planetary and Stellar Worlds: A Popular Exposition of the Great Discoveries and Theories of Modern Astronomy by Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, 1848. A well known astronomical lecturer and double star observer, Mitchel (1809-1862) was the founding director of the Cincinnati Observatory. But he was also an 1829 West Point graduate. Although he resigned from the Army in 1832, he returned to active duty in the U.S. Civil War as a Brigadier General of Volunteers. He served as Commander of the Department of the Ohio, and later in the field, under Major General Don Caros Buell in the Army of the Ohio. Mitchel led the daring raid to sieze control of Huntsville, Alabama, and the Mississippi & Charleston Railroad, in April, 1862. As Major General of Volunteers, he transferred to command of the Department of the South, and of X Corps, out of Hilton Head, South Carolina. But he became ill and died on October 30, 1862, shortly after arriving. His book includes chapters on stellar motion and the speed of light, which are not found in the earlier books. Another of Mitchel's books, The Astronomy of the Bible is online as page images, from the University of Michigan. By the late 1800's, we find such books as Studies in Spectrum Analysis, 1878, and Elements of Astronomy, 1886, both by J. Norman Lockyer. The book on spectrum analysis is not a popular exposition, as was Mitchel's work, but a genuine physics book. You can see, going from Squire to Lockyer, how astronomy goes from an art to a science, from the descriptive, to the mathematical.

    But one more astronomy book deserves special attention: La Planète Mars et ses Conditions d'Habitabilité by Camille Flammarion, a name well known to anyone who has studied astronomy and Mars. It's a large format, two volume set; volume I was published in 1892, and volume II appeared in 1909. Volume I cataloged and examined every recorded astronomical observation of Mars that was known, and volume II did the same for all observations after volume I was compiled. The result is a compendium of literally everything known about Mars up to 1909, induding the then latest ideas on whether or not the planet could, or did support life.


    As I a long-time, dedicated chessplayer, it should come as no surprise that a large chunk of my antiquarian library, probably the majority of it, consists of chess books. The second oldest book in my collection is my oldest chess book, Le Jeu des Eschets, traduit de l'Italien de Giachino Greco, Calabrois, but translated by whom they forgot to mention. This book was printed in Paris in 1714, but I think the Italian original dates from 1705. The book has a bookplate Ex Libris the Earl of Portsmouth. I have no idea which Earl of Portsmouth might have owned it, or when. But this kind of thing, a bookplate, or a note, or a signature, adds to the interest of the books. It adds an additional link to history; I know that I have a book the Earl of Portsmouth had sitting on his shelf, maybe over 200 years ago. Aside from the Greco, the next oldest chess book I have is a 1777 edition of Analysis of the Game of Chess, "A new edition, greatly enlarged", by the legendary Frenchman, André Philidor. It consists of a slightly revised version of the 1749 1st edition, but with an added supplement of about the same length, which carries new opening and endgame analysis. There were not all that many chess books around during the 1700's, and Philidor's, though the most influential chess book of the 18th century, suffered from the same drawback as all the others: it was not suitable for learning the game from scratch. If you were not already at least familiar with the basics of the game, the book was very hard to follow. The first book I am aware of that was really designed to teach the game in detail, for complete beginners, was A New Treatise on the Game of Chess by J.H. Sarratt, 1808, probably England's leading chess author of the day. I have an 1808 edition of volume II only, in a modern binding, but I also have an 1821 edition of the two volume set, in contemporary binding. The set I have belonged to James Whatman III, grandson of James Whatman, founder of the Whatman Company. Whatman made many comments throughout the book, and indicated that he had discussed at least some of them with Sarratt. But Sarratt's protogé William Lewis thought the New Treatise was really still too advanced as a book for real beginners, so he wrote his own, Elements of the Game of Chess, published in 1822. The title of Sarratt's book comes from A Treatise on the Game of Chess, by D. Pietro Carrera, published in 1617. I don't have a 1617 edition; they were already almost impossible to find in 1822, when Lewis published the English translation that I do have.

    I also have a number of magazines from the late 1800's and early 1900's; a full run of Brentano's Chess Monthly, from May 1881 through August-September 1882; an incomplete set of The Chess Player's Chronicle and Journal of Indoor and Outdoor Amusements from August 9, 1881 through June 30, 1886; Lasker's Chess Magazine, from November 1904 through August 1907; and the first two issues of The London Chess Forthnightly, August 15 & September 1, 1892. Both of the latter two were run by Emanuel Lasker, who remained world chess champion for 27 years, from 1894-1921. I also have a single bound volume of British Chess Magazine (BCM) for the year 1903. Magazines don't last as long as books, and are harder to find in good shape. But they are a goldmine of contemporary doings that never make it into books. Commentary, historical articles, game and tournament reports, and problem solving competitions, make the magazines a welcome, and indispensible part of my chess library.

    Finally, I do have a large number of facsimile reprints, mostly from the publisher Edition Olms AG in Zurich, Switzerland. One curiosity is that I got the books of the first 6 American Chess Congresses (1857, 1871, 1874, 1876, 1880, & 1889) from Olms, as no American publisher carried them. Though all reprints, the content is unaltered, and neither is the form, since they are all facsimile reprints of the originals. The First American Chess Congress, 1857, is noteworthy as the venue of introduction for the legendary American Paul Charles Morphy, who was the world's best player by a wide margin, and would have been world champion if the title had existed in his day. I have facsimle reprints of J.J. Lowenthal's collection of Morphy's games (from Batsford Books), as well as Maroczy's collection (from Olms). Olms also supplied the facsimile reprint for the 1914 St. Petersburg tournament, after which the Emperor of Russia declared Lasker, Capablanca, Alechin, Tarrasch & Marshall to be "Grandmasters of Chess", the first time the title was ever used.

    Military History

    The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire 1793-1812 by Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, USN first appeared in 1892. My copy is the 8th edition, 1897. A.T. Mahan (1840-1914) and his father Dennis Hart Mahan (1802-1871) dominated military thinking in the U.S. for 100 years or more. Everything they wrote became the standard, and Alfred's books are classics in naval history. Dennis Hart Mahan taught at West Point from 1824 to 1871, and all of the West Point graduates who fought on either side of the U.S. Civil War, studied military science under him; much of the fighting was Mahan vs Mahan. Alfred Thayer Mahan [named after his father's benefactor Major Sylvanus Thayer (1785-1872), the "Father of West Point"] was the leading Naval theoretician of his day, and his books dominated the world wide build up in naval power before World War I. Speaking of WWI, Report of the First Army, American Expeditionary Forces by Gen. John J. Pershing and Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, 1923, is an excellent primary source for information on 1st army activities in WWI, especially St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. This particular book was a gift from Hunter Ligett inscribed To my friend Major H. Clay with best wishes. H. Liggett, Major General, USA, ret. June 12, '24, San Francisco, California. Liggett took over command of 1st army when Pershing advanced to army group command. From World War II an interesting book: The U.S. Navy At War 1941-1945; Official Reports to the Secretary of the Navy by Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, published in Washington DC, 1946. This is a bound set of the 3 official reports (April 23, 1944; March 27, 1945 and December 8, 1945) King sent to the secretary. King (1878-1956) became both Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations, in March 1942, in the post Pearl harbor reorganization of the Navy that saw the former C-in-C Husband Kimmel facing a threatened court martial, and the former CNO Harold R. Stark packed off to command the U.S. Navy European Forces (which didn't even have any US ships at the time). King personally commanded the largest naval force ever, and his reports tell the whole story of the U.S. Navy in combat during WW II. Kimmell (1882-1968), who commanded at Pearl Harbor and lost his fleet in the Japanese attack, wrote his own book, Admiral Kimmel's Story in 1955. There are a lot of books on what happened at Pearl Harbor, but Kimmel's is one that still is not usually well known even to exist.

    More Books!!

    My entire antiquarian collection is several hundred books (my entire library is a few thousand), and I won't weigh you down with more than I have, at least not yet! But I do pick up the odd-ball book from time to time. I like atlases and maps, so one of my favorite books is School Atlas to Illustrate the Elements of Modern Geography by Joseph Griffin, Philadelphia, 1838. The atlas shows Texas when it was an independent country. But, one of its more interesting attributes is a table at the end of the book which gives some demographic information about the various countries. That table also includes a classification scheme applied to each country: Civilized and Enlightened, Civilized, Half Civilized, or Barbarous. For the most part, the Catholic countries of Europe are, by Griffin's standards civilized but not enlightened, and everything west of the Mississippi is barbarous (which some of you may still agree with). Then there is The Lord's Prayer in the Principal Languages of the World by Gustaf Fredrik Bergholtz, Chicago, 1884. Bergholtz has a pretty liberal interpretation of principal languages, since his book gives the Lord's Prayer in 188 languages and dialects, not all of which still exist, or so I would presume.

    This is definitely not a hobby for everyone. These books can get expensive fast. Although $600 is the most I have ever spent for one book, I have certainly handled a number of much more expensive items. But reasonably intersting books can be found at more civilized prices. The Pascal cost me $450, but the atlas by Griffin was only $75. I don't remember what the Lockyear books cost, but I suspect they were even less, probably $50. Nevertheless, to me this is like living with history instead of just reading about it, and that counts for something.

    Explore the World of Books on the WWW

    Antiquarian Book Resources & Online Book Searching
    Book Fairs

    A book fair is like a convention of book dealers, sometimes hundreds, from around the country or around the world. They set up shop and sell direct. You can browse, buy, make deals, or arrange to sell your own.

    Public & Research Libraries
    Maps & Cartography
    Books Online
    Publishers Online
    Selected University Publishers
    Everything Else

    Page updated and SOME URLs checked: April 8, 2003
    I confess there are just too many links to click them all right now.
    if you find a broken link, let me know & I'll fix it, if I can.

    Back to Tim Thompson's Home Page