Whole books about Lincoln first appeared in 1860. Some of his speeches were separately printed as early as 1839, and aside from newspaper renditions of his words, 1837 saw the earliest published Lincoln document. Since then, perhaps 17,000 titles have appeared.
Collectors love all of this material, both the writings by Lincoln, and writings about him. The first two bibliographies about him appeared in 1870. For the mystery at hand, the important listings were by Daniel Fish in 1906 and 1910; Jay Monaghan in 1943-45; and the Library of Congress in 1960. Individual great collectors, including Fish, published lists to draw attention to their own holdings – about 1,100 printed items in his case.
The standard today remains the effort by librarian Monaghan, whose 2-volume ‘Lincoln Bibliography’ lists 3,958 items. It is impossible to acquire a copy of each of those 3,958 items today; dozens of them are too rare or obscure.
So how did a 24-volume set of the Nicolay and Hay edition of Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, published by F. D. Tandy of New York in 1905, go unrecorded by any of these people?
It is no mean set, as should be clear from the illustration here. Bound in full brown morocco leather, with floral Art Nouveau gilt onlays decorating each cover, doublures inside each cover, silk-laid endpapers, gilt-topped pages, and scores of specially added fine engravings of people and scenes sprinkled throughout the text, this was the most extravagant publication on Lincoln ever put out. Original price? Unknown.
With false humility the set is dubbed ‘The Log Cabin Edition’; a watercolor of that boyhood home graces each volume’s doublure. And it seems that none of the major amassers and promoters of Lincolniana ever had a set, viz., the ‘Big Five’ collectors W. H. Lambert (d. 1912), C.W. McLellan (d. 1918), Judd Stewart (d. 1919), Daniel Fish (d. 1924), or J. B. Oakleaf (d. 1930). Incredibly, Jay Monaghan never saw one; and the great modern collector Oliver R. Barrett (d. 1950) did not either. Major booksellers of 1905-1960, D. H. Newhall, E. J. Wessen, and C. E. Van Norman, seem never to have offered one.
What everyone saw, and owned, was the 12-volume set of Complete Works as edited by Nicolay and Hay, published also in 1905. A variety of special imprints of this set came out in the period 1905-1914, with catchy edition-titles like ‘Centennial Edition’ and ‘Biographical Edition’ and ‘Gettysburg Edition.’ The mind races to the obvious phrase to begin a full-life coverage of Lincoln, The Log Cabin Edition, yet no publisher has used it otherwise. Almost incredibly, Tandy published Fish’s bibliography in 1906, after handling the 24-volume jewel, and apparently kept news it from him. Or should we not believe Tandy’s printed date of publication?
Tandy took the 12 volumes of Nicolay and Hay, bulked them out with those fine engravings, slimmed each volume, and, presto, 24. How rare is it? The printed half-title for each volume of the set acquired in 2009 by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum reads,
“The Log Cabin Edition of the Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln is Extra Illustrated and limited to Eight Numbered Copies of which this is Number 4.” That digit 4 was penned in by hand.
A lengthy search of library catalogs, collectors’ papers, and auction sales finally revealed that one set had been privately sold in 1922; and, then, that the University of Texas Library owns a set. They did not know it. We helped them realize that it is set number 5.
Here is the most fascinating feature of the set. The 24th volume is not printed pages. It is a volume composed of manuscript letters, 26 of them in the set at the ALPLM, bound to match the others in appearance. The first manuscript is in Lincoln’s hand, a little note that reads “Sec. of War. Please see Mr. Edwards a moment. A. L.” (Plausibly this was his brother-in-law Ninian W. Edwards, who visited Washington in 1862.) The other 25 manuscripts are by William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Horace Greeley, signatures of S. A. Douglas and Rutherford B. Hayes, and various political and military figures pre-1860 and post-1865. Evidently there was so much of this stuff around in 1905 that a well-heeled publisher could sweep up enough to bind – even 8 sets of it.
My hope is that some college library or two out there simply took in one of these treasure-sets long ago and attached the bibliographic record of the 12-volume original to their 24 volumes; and it has reposed on the shelves, unmolested for decades, because other, handier sets were nearby. This is more or less what had happened to the set at Texas. Or, one fears that someone long ago disbound volume 24 for its historic and unique contents, and left the oft-printed rest of it aside. Does anyone know of a 23-volume set that looks like it lost its caboose?
Collectors! Browsers of used bookstores! Spelunkers in the garage sales of the hinterland! Where are sets number 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, or 8? One could speculate that each set was produced only by subscription, and that sets 6, 7, and 8 never found sponsors. But surely 1, 2, and 3 existed.
No, the Lincoln field has not been exhausted. We daily look forward to another discovery. Likely the next discovery will not fill 32 inches of shelf space.