Saturday, May 15, 2010

Goodspeed's Western Scout

Goodspeed's of Boston closed its doors in 1993, but had a good run for a century as a leading dealer in antiquarian Americana, prints, pamphlets, autographs, and other printed matter. They left behind numerous publications in the form of catalogs and a monthly publication called The Month at Goodspeed's, both of which gave a good measure of the kinds of material and books that passed through Goodspeed's shops.

I have previously posted here examples of each--a catalog of Rare Americana and an issue of The Month at Goodspeed's, my favorite because of the informative articles and bibliographical information each issue contained.

Recently, I acquired another Goodspeed publication, Goodspeed's Western Scout, which I had not seen before or known about, and it has gotten me to consider the rise of Western Americana as a specialty field.

As the publications' masthead indicates, Goodspeed's Western Scout was first issued in 1952, with Vol. 1, No. 1 rolling off the press on Friday, February 1st of that year in Goodspeed's fictional Old West setting of Thataway, Wyoming.

I have the first three issues and the dates indicate it was a weekly publication printed on Fridays. How long of a print run the Western Scout enjoyed, I don't know. Since discovering this publication, I've searched for clues about its existence and can't find a clue anywhere that proves it existed it all. For now, I seem to have all the evidence that it did.

I am curious about Goodspeed's decision at this time to cull Western Americana from its stock-and-trade Americana and create a special publication series devoted to available books on the subject. Was this an indicator of the times? A new "movement" in the market?

Demand creates markets and there was undoubtedly a significant enough interest in Western Americana that prompted this specialty publication. Certainly, popular culture in recent decades had been teeming with images and film depictions of the Old West and various versions of the cowboy life, which may have been parlayed into increased reader and collector interests in related material. But the interest in Western Americana existed long before popular entertainment media of the 20th century came along and well before the term Western Americana even evolved to describe a particular field of interest among collectors. Maybe the momentum built over the years as the Old West faded into historical context and a nostalgic consciousness evolved.

I don't have enough bookseller catalogs and related publications from that era to document a trend in collector tastes and dealer responses via specialty catalogs and related ephemera. But I have seen a fair number of similar catalogs from specialty dealers in Western Americana to know that the genre was garnering attention about that time as a viable stand-alone specialty for both collectors and dealers alike.

On my reference shelves, I found a few books that lend some support to a rise in popularity of Western Americana about the time of Goodspeed's Western Scout. I'm curious about when the interest in such material coalesced into a specific genre worthy of specialty dealers, specific catalogs, and other publications solely dedicated to the American West.

Ramon F. Adams writes in the Introduction to his classic bibliography, Six Guns and Saddle Leather (University of Oklahoma Press, 1954):
Because of the widespread interest in, and extensive writing about, outlaws, I have compiled this bibliography of books which have come under my personal observation, many of them diligently sought by the great number of collectors of outlaw material.
Adams' book responded to a growing interest in the 1950s of one area of Western Americana. Collectors had probably been seeking this material since the early days of the West, but it wasn't until the 1950s that Adams wrote his bibliography in response to increased interest.

Next, I turned to Carl L. Cannon's American Book Collectors and Collecting from Colonial Times to Present (The H. W. Wilson Company, 1941), which I found in a great little book shop, Lighthouse Books, in St. Petersburg, Florida last year during a bookscouting/spring training trip. What a great shop to spend a morning browsing old books! I bought of good little chunk of proprietor Michael Slicker's available stock on books about books, including the Cannon book.

Cannon devotes a chapter to the Far West, or Western Americana. From his research, we can sense in the late 19th century a developing interest in subjects of the American West through individual collectors in specialty areas, bibliographers, and by the early 20th century the catalogs of booksellers and auction houses. Cannon writes:
Book collecting in this new movement originated apparently in California, where it was originally limited to books on that state. Augustin. S. Macdonald of Oakland brought together a group of such books and issued a catalogue of them in 1903.
The first auction catalogues (observed by the author) to use the phrase in its modern significance, was a lot sold at Anderson Galleries on May 20 and 21, 1918, where the phrase "including books on the Early West" follows the general term Americana.
The first indication that Easterners were participating in the field of Western Americana came in the early twenties when the prices realized and the wide distribution of copies indicated a national interest in the field.
The remainder of the chapter cites important collectors and bibliographies, as well as sales of Western Americana at auction, to bolster the assumption that the field had come into its own prior to World War II.

I would imagine that many booksellers, who did not specialize in the field, but had titles nonetheless, began to issue catalogs specifically for Western Americana collectors. I would also assume that in the postwar years, there arose specialty dealers in the field.

Cannon concludes the chapter with this paragraph about an early influential Western Americana collector and bookseller:
Credit for discoveries of unusual or little-known printed titles and manuscripts in the field of Western Americana must be given to Edward Eberstadt, bookseller of New York, who aided a number of collectors in extending and vitalizing the subject.
Charles E. Goodspeed, in his autobiographical Yankee Bookseller (Houghton Mifflin, 1937) utters nary a word about Western Americana or scouting for Western books. At least, I can't find any clues in the Index and I don't have the time to reread the entire book for this post (though I'd like to and will at some point). So does that mean that an increased interest in the subject developed quickly over the next 15 years (1937-1952)? And was Goodspeed a leader in bookseller circles for circulating catalogs specific to Western Americana?

About the time Goodspeed's started pushing their Western Americana as a separate entity of their business, the Beinecke Library at Yale University, in 1952, was opening their extensive Western Americana collection to the public.

George Miles of the Beinecke Library writes:
When the collection opened to the public in September 1952, it did not, as many people supposed, mark the Yale University Library's entry into a new and previously ignored field. The opening was a turning point rather than a fresh departure--a consolidation of past efforts that signaled an expansion of support for the scholarly community.
New and previously ignored field? A faulty perception some assumed would be made, but it offers more proof that Western Americana as a recognized specialty collection may have just been in its infancy as the 1950s began. The passage, "a consolidation of past efforts" is important because it confirms that Western Americana had been collected seriously in the preceding years and decades, just not under the identity of a recognizable, binding title.

So with libraries, authors, bibliographers, the collecting public, and individual dealers staking their claims in the "new" territory of Western Americana, it would appear that the astute Americanist Goodspeed was among the early players near the beginning of the "movement" with the Western Scout publications.


  1. Chuck, I'm guessing you've read it, so I might remind you of another yankee bookseller's memoir, Charles Everitt's The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter. Everitt, of course, was an
    Americana specialist and he speaks often about western Americana throughout the book. Everitt died in 1951, so it reveals a good idea of the market previous to the mid-century. By the way, my copy has the carbon of the handwritten invoice, dating 4/11/1962, from Haines and Essick, Booksellers and Stationers in Decatur, Illinois. If you want it, send me your address, and I'll be happy to send it along to you.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.



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