Cataloger’s Corner: A Fascinating Autograph

Title page from Ruskin's Political Economy of Art.

Title page from Ruskin’s Political Economy of Art, N7445.2.R87 1858 General.

Recently Adeane Bregman offered the Burns Library a number of 19th century titles that the Bapst Library was de-accessioning; I accepted a handful of them. Cataloging these today, I ran into a very interesting autograph that beautifully explicates how old books can lead to adventures in discovery.

The book in question was a small, octavo monograph by the noted Victorian art critic, social philosopher and philanthropist John Ruskin, entitled The Political Economy of Art, published in New York by Wiley in 1858. With the exception of the fact that Ruskin’s reputation has only grown since his death – a perusal of Quest reveals that we have over 100 books about him, much less by him – there appeared to be  nothing spectacular about this book. But then I noticed, on the front flyleaf recto, a penciled autograph.

Thaxter autograph in Burns Library copy of Political Economy of Art, 1858.

Thaxter autograph in Burns Library copy of Political Economy of Art, 1858.

Looking up Mr. Thaxter I ran into a local character who sparked my interest, and I hope yours too. The following is gleaned from C.E. Banks’ The History of Martha’s Vineyard, Dukes County, Massachusetts, a 3-volume set published between 1911-1925 and reprinted in 1966:

Leavitt Thaxter was born on 3/13/1788 or 3/13/1789; prepared for Harvard but did not graduate; became a sailor and was imprisoned by the British in Calcutta during War of 1812; teacher who started academy at Edgartown in 1825; representative to Mass. General Court, 1830; state senator, 1836-47; governor’s council, 1839; first president of Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Association in 1858; d. 11/27/1863.

This Reed College site hosts a scanned portrait of Thaxter taken from vol. 2 of Banks’ book. You never know who you are going to run into when you work in a place like the Burns!

  • David Richtmyer, Senior Cataloger, Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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