Unique Jacksoniana: An Extra-Illustrated Life

An earlier blog post mentioned that work was underway on an online resource about the Jacksonian Era at AAS featuring highlights from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era collection. To whet your appetite in the weeks leading up to its debut we will be telling you about a few one-of-a-kind items from that collection. Today we feature an extra-illustrated copy of A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson.

Title page of the extra-illustrated volume.

Now, you may well be wondering just what makes a book extra-illustrated (also sometimes referred to as Grangerized, named for the Brit who popularized the practice in the eighteenth century). Imagine you hold in your hands a copy of the 1831 campaign biography, A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson. Now imagine yourself carefully razoring out each individual leaf of the entire text—all 210 pages, i.e. 105 two-sided leaves. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing? Well, an unknown nineteenth-century individual did so in order to create his or her own personalized book crafted around the skeleton of the original biography’s printed text. This person carefully inlayed the cut-out printed pages from the original book’s octavo volume (roughly the size of a small paperback today) into folio sheets of paper (roughly the size of a current coffee-table book). The effect is such that the text appears as a window centered within wide margins on the oversized page. If you’re curious just how this was done, the Huntington Library did an excellent time-lapsed one-minute video showing the process as part of their 2013 exhibition, Illuminated Palaces: Extra-Illustrated Books from the Huntington Library.

One of the interleaved illustrations in the volume.

But our compiler (or book-destroyer, depending on how you look at it) was not satisfied with first cutting apart and then beefing up the size of A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson. Interspersed between every few leaves of text we also find extra illustrations. Plates, or separately printed sheets of illustrations, have been taken from other publications and bound into our new folio-sized volume, interleaved between the pages of cut-out text in a beautifully tooled and gilt binding with blue silk paste-downs. Among the images are Rachel Jackson, Cherokee and Choctaw chiefs, Nashville and Washington, D.C., just about every portrait of Jackson you can think of, and more. Most relate to, or comment on, the pages of text they now neighbor.

The gilt cover of the volume.

A few words might be in order here about the printed text this book is built around. A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson is only described on the title page as written “by a free man” but has been attributed to William Joseph Snelling. Despite its title claim to be “impartial,” the text is decidedly anti-Jacksonian (though not as vitriolic as others) as evidenced in the book’s penultimate paragraph, which concludes: “The rest of Mr. Jackson’s statement does not agree with the record.” Though many people would have had access to Snelling’s original publication, this particular volume now at AAS is a print mash-up that has essentially become a unique item of exponentially more value to researchers.

(N.B.: All the volumes in the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection are available to researchers now in person at AAS and can be identified using the collection name when searching the general catalog.)

Published by

Elizabeth Watts Pope

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

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