Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Museum in a Book" Books Put History at Your Fingertips

What a cool collection of historic artifacts! Imagine having these priceless pieces of Americana in your own home!
As historians, we love our books, don't we? We can't seem to get enough of them, and we devour every bit of new historical information we discover during our research and relish the confirmation of tidbits we already knew.
And we especially love those history books that can successfully put flesh on the bones of the past, don't we? I remember diving into the "Best of Life" book my brother had (was it 40 years ago??), filled with photos and captions from Life Magazine from the 1930s through the 1970s.
I loved nearly every page - the pictures drew me right into the scene!
And all of those Bicentennial books and magazines that came out in the '70s---wow!---filled with the wonderful drawings and paintings of long ago set my imagination on fire!
I was shaking with excitement!
I also remember as a kid seeing the picture-less, over-bearing, boring history textbooks written for adults and thinking just how awful it must be to have to read one of those lifeless things.
And this from a young history buff!
You may recall that it used to be if a book included pictures it wasn't to be taken seriously or it was considered to be more for children.
As I got older - high school age - the dreaded feeling of being forced to read those "adult" history books continued, because as much as I tried to read them, those drab books were written in monotone, just like when a teacher or a professor gives a lecture, with no emotion or feeling at all.
Now that I'm an adult (sorta) I still see those dull books much in the same way, though I now understand quite clearly their importance, for the amount of information they hold makes these boring old textbooks worth their weight in gold.
But one can only do so much 'deep reading' before needing a break - there are times for historical reading fun, too!
You see, as a social historian, I'm a picture-person, and seeing a photograph or painting will give almost as much information as the written word. The old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" is true, and though I eat up the written information, it's the accompanying illustrations that tends to add that note of completeness for me.
Thanks to the powers-that-be that modern day history books are generally written in this way, for it is a much more exciting manner in which to study and learn about the past.
And now we can take this historical illustration concept to the next level; have you ever gone to a museum with the thought of how cool it would be to have some of those wonderful historical documents framed and hanging in your own home or used in an appropriate manner to add to a sort of tableau?
Notice how the broadside accents and gives an air of authenticity to this tableau of a colonial scene.

I have. Nearly every time I visit a museum, in fact.
But, of course, that would **nearly** be impossible for someone like me who has little funds to spare to purchase authentic Americana (beyond a piece of furniture here and there).
The price of the items you see in museums, if they were for sale, would be, well, priceless. However, there are actual historical artifacts available for purchase through dealers such as Heritage Collector's Society, Inc., though, like I said, unless you have plenty of money to spare, most of the really cool documents are out of reach for the average person.
So, the best way for someone like me to own a bit of this history (without losing my house or going to jail) would be to own the "Museum in a Book" collection.
I do.
In fact, I have listed & linked below those titles that are in my own personal library which do help to rectify not only the boring history textbook situation mentioned above (big time!), but also kind of helps in collecting many important yet unobtainable American artifacts as well. These books are some of the best publications I own, for not only can you now get a wealth of information about the subject at hand, but you can also hold in their own hands replicated artifacts of original documents of the time.
And, though the stodgy history majors may thumb their collective noses at such "juvenile history," this is one historian who thinks they are very cool.  
Very cool.
Most of the replicated items are of excellent quality, though are not good enough to fool a museum (obviously). But they're not meant to - they are facsimiles printed on (mostly) modern paper. But that's all beside the point. I mean, I have a very authentic-looking copy of the Declaration of Independence framed and hanging proudly on my wall.
My framed copy of the Declaration of Independence: I have it pictured here next to a few other items to show its size.
Pretty cool, eh?
And then I also did this:
I framed Paul Revere's version of the Boston Massacre as well.
Who knows? Maybe even a couple other items that come with these books will also find their way upon my walls - I could have a real fine authentic-looking collection of American history in my home.
Just showing my patriotic pride I suppose.
A close-up of my replica of Paul Revere's version of the Boston Massacre from March of 1770 (which is a copy from one engraved earlier that year by Henry Pelham).

Though many do learn best strictly by reading text, I am a student who learns much better by sight, sound, smell, touch, and, due to living history, actually taking part. All people learn at different rates and with different styles. To me, there's something uniquely special about reading a facsimile of the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence or a letter from the Father of Our Country to his wife written in his own hand that makes one want to gaze upon it, as if they're actually seeing history...holding history.
And in a strong sense, they are.
It's difficult to explain, but they are.
That being said, I have taken the liberty (get it? Liberty?) to present here a list of the ones that I personally have in my library.
Following the list are photographs I took of a very few of the many, many replicated artifacts that are enclosed inside these books.
I thought I'd share some of the items with you.

The Declaration of Independence: The Story Behind America's Founding Document and the Men Who Created It By Rodd Gragg
Besides getting what I'm assuming to be a full-size replica of the Declaration of Independence, you also get a Sons of Liberty song sheet from 1775 celebrating the Boston Tea Party, a couple pages from the original Thomas Payne pamphlet Common Sense, diary entrees from John Adams from 1774, Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence, and so much more cool 'collectible' replicated items from the birth of our nation.

Replicas of actual letters written by Civil War soldiers - both North and South. Some speak of the boredom of camp while others talk of the excitement of battle. One letter actually has a dying soldier's blood from his mortal wound on the page.
This is a wonderful collection for the student of American history or for the reenactor who would like an account of what it was really like for those who fought in the Civil War.

With this interactive biography you get wonderful replicas of a couple pages from Washington's diary as well as letters - both in his own handwriting, the title page from the 1783 Treaty of Paris, a broadside copy of his farewell address, and numerous other articles.

Replicas of experiment illustrations drawn in Dr. Franklin's own hand, a broadside announcing the repeal of the Stamp Act, a recruitment broadside asking for volunteers, the title page of the first edition of Poor Richard's Alamanack, a 1775 map of Boston, various letters written by Franklin, and numerous other authentic-looking artifacts pertaining to one of our greatest Founding Fathers.

1776: The Illustrated Edition By David McCullough
That tumultuous year of 1776 magically comes alive with this amazing collection of replica artifacts. It actually begins in 1775 with the events leading up to the Revolutionary War, including letters from Abigail Adams to her husband John, Washington's commission, and a broadside of King George's speech to Parliament declaring the colonists as rebels. Then, from July 8, 1776 we have a newspaper printing of the full text of the Declaration of Independence followed by many more George Washington letters, loyalists vows of allegiance, Lord Rawdon's account of British progress, and countless other replicas of original letters, maps, and documents from the period.

Probably my favorite of them all, this set includes replica documents of such historic items as The Quartering Act of 1774 where British Officers were allowed to quarter their troops inside private homes, an oath of allegiance for the Continental soldier to sign, a few pages from the 1775 diary of Joseph Plumb Martin, a full copy of the Declaration of Independence, colonial paper money, notes from James Madison on the content of the Bill of Rights, and a copy of the Louisiana Purchase, among so many other historic replicas of our American History.

Lincoln: The Presidential Archives by Chuck Wills
Another pretty cool concept - the replica historic papers of our 16th president. In this collection you get Abraham & Mary Todd's marriage license from 1842, a patent application for a device to bouy stuck vessels from May 22, 1849, an 1860 campaign banner, a letter from Mary to Abraham from 1862, the replica of the Lincoln's handwritten copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, an advertisement for a play he decided to see on Good Friday in 1865, and so much more.

And, for good measure, we'll throw in Reporting the Revolutionary War by Todd Andrlik
Technically not a museum in a book book, it, instead, has a few replica broadsheets that can easily be removed should you want to frame a couple of the papers.
What makes this book uniquely different is that the information is taken directly from the newspapers of the time. As it states on the front cover: before it was history, it was news.
And the back cover information says: For the first time, experience the sparks of revolution the way the colonists did - in their very own town newspapers and broadsheets.
Beginning with the Stamp Act and ending with the resignation of George Washington as Commander in Chief, virtually every important and not-so-important aspect of the Revolutionary War is covered as was originally printed at the time. 
Yep - well worth your investment.

By the way, I also have one of these Museum in a Book books that was given to me as a gift from a friend about English author Charles Dickens that was printed in 2012 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mr. Dickens' birth. Called The Charles Dickens Bicentenary 1812 - 2012, it was written by 3rd great granddaughter of the Victorian author, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley. In it you'll find such beautifully replicated documents as a first edition copy of his own newspaper, The Daily News from January 21, 1846, a first edition replica of a few pages from Dickens Household Words pamphlet from May 5, 1855, an extract from the March edition of Bleak House, photographs owned by Katey Dickens of her father, a facsimile of Charles and Catherine's marriage license, letters, more portions of manuscripts, and, well, oodles of Dickens collectables for those who, like me, are more than just a passing fan.
Like the other museum in a book books listed, there is also a wealth of information and loads of photographs to accent the replicated documents.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, as promised, here are a few of the many cool collectable "artifacts" you will find in the various books listed above:
Benjamin Franklin's own humorously written epitaph from 1728.

Ben Franklin's records of letters that passed through his Philadelphia Post Office - 1767.

The title page of the first edition of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack from 1733.

The broadside memorializing the deaths from the Boston Massacre in 1770.

The Quartering Act of 1774.

The New Hampshire Gazette announcing the news of the bloody battle that had recently taken place in Lexington and Concord - 1775.

A close up of the above newspaper from 1775: when the shot heard around the world was news and not yet history.

A list of the American dead from the battles that took place at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.

A letter from Abigail Adams to her husband John in 1775.
As of June 13, 1775, George Washington is now the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army!

A letter from George Washington to his wife Martha in 1775.

The front page of the pamphlet "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine, first printed in January 1776 and helped to propel the colonists to fight for Independence.

The discipline notations of George Washington discouraging his men from using profanity - 1776.

The original "rough draught" (draft) of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson - 1776.

The Pennsylvania Racket newspaper from July 1776 printed in full the text of the newly proclaimed Declaration of Independence.

A broadside of King George's address from October 1776: the Proclamation of Rebellion.

The Loyalists Vows of Allegiance - November 1776.

The Treaty of Paris, from September 1783, ended the Revolutionary War between the newly formed United States of America and Great Britain.

An 1832 copy of a book of remembrances taken from the diary of Revolutionary War soldier Joseph Plumb

A list of a year's worth of provisions made by Meriwether Lewis for the journey west in 1804. 

The original handwritten poem from 1814 by Francis Scott Key that became the Star Spangled Banner.

A blood-stained letter from a dying Civil War soldier to his father.

Army life description during the Civil War.

An 1862 letter from Mary Lincoln to her husband Abraham.

The playbill advertising "Our American Cousin" for Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

A broadside offering a reward for the capture of the murderers of President Lincoln - April 1865.

The 1836 marriage certificate of Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth.

An 1866 Boxing Day tournament hosted by Mr. Charles Dickens.

A reading tour ticket to see Charles Dickens in January of 1869.

Every item pictured here came from one of the books I have listed and linked.
Pretty cool, eh?
And many of the books can be bought used at super low prices!
It's really a fine way to collect the kind of American history that you will probably never be able to have otherwise.
And, depending on which era you may reenact, some of these items will make great conversation starters for your presentation.


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