UVM auctions rare books from Vermont’s early history

Print More

(Host) Saturday morning at 10 o’clock, the auctioneer’s gavel will sound at the University of Vermont. Collectors from around the country will be bidding on a collection of rare and valuable books being sold by the UVM Library’s Special Collections.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

“The special books are there. The broadsides…”

(Zind) It’s intriguing to imagine what famous figures have held the old books carefully arranged on tables in UVM’s Waterman Lounge. One belonged to Thomas Jefferson, it bears his signature. The books – about 450 of them – are a goldmine for anyone interested in buying rare titles from the early days of the state and the union.

They also represent a lifetime of collecting by two noted Vermonters. Many are from the collection of the late Gertrude Mallory. Mallory owned the finest collection of Vermontiana.

(William Parkinson) “The other part of the collection is from the estate of Stephen Bradley, who was Vermont’s first U.S. Senator. A very early collection, some very nice early Americana.”

(Zind) William Parkinson is a Vermont book dealer and auctioneer. Parkinson says both collections were donated to University’s Library. UVM is auctioning off those titles which it already owns. He says a few of the volumes represent a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for collectors; first edition books by Ethan and Ira Allen date back more than 200 years. They could fetch up to $10,000. There are also many old town histories and county gazetteers packed with names and local lore.

(Parkinson) “Every Vermont collector wants a set of Abby Hemenway’s Gazetteer of Vermont.”

(Eva Clough) “Oh, I like Abby Hemenway, but I’m not sure I can afford her.” (Laughs.)

(Zind) Eva Clough of Essex has dropped by to examine the books. She’s here for personal reasons.

(Clough) “Actually I do genealogy, so I’m look for town histories and things like that that I can find our ancestors in.”

(Zind) Clough is also on the lookout for any books containing Essex history. She’s a member of the town’s historical society.

Collectors from as far away as Washington state will vie for these well thumbed volumes when the bidding begins Saturday morning. There are curious titles: “The Physiology of Digestion, With Experiments on the Gastric Juice.” Others recall heroic figures in American history, like “Davey Crockett’s Almanac of Wild Sports in the West” from 1836.

But it’s the hard-to-find books by and about the people and places closer to home that make this auction special. Kevin Graffignino is the director of the Vermont Historical Society.

(Graffignino) “I think this is one of the richest sales a Vermont collector or Vermont enthusiast would find.”

(Zind) Graffignino slips a small, pale green pamphlet from among a line of books on one table. The pamphlet was written by the first settler to arrive in Wolcott, the year was 1789. It’s entitled, “A Narrative of the Sufferings of Seth Hubble and Family.” Hubble describes clearing two acres of land with only an ax and a hoe.

(Graffignino, reading from Hubble) “When too faint to labor for want of food, I used to take a fish from the river, broil it on the coals and eat it without bread or salt and then do my work again. I could not get a single potato to plant the first season, so scarce was this article.”

(Zind) Saturday, Hubble’s tale of struggle in the wilds of Vermont – and the other volumes here – will pass to new owners. Like the books’ previous owners, they’ll preserve these fascinating glimpses into the early days of Vermont and the nation.

The proceeds from the auction will go to the University of Vermont Library’s Special Collections. The money will be used to purchase – more books.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.

Comments are closed.