Tag Archives | rare books

‘Mislike Me Not for My Complexion’

In spring 2010, Julia Ellen Craft Davis and Vicki Lorraine Davis generously donated the Craft and Crum Family Papers to the Avery Research Center. Archivists and historians alike are delighted with the major highlight of the collection: a tribute book to William and Ellen Craft, enslaved people from Macon, Georgia who completed a daring escape and became internationally known celebrities.

'Mislike Me Not for My Complexion,' quoted by Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge quotes the Prince of Morocco from William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

Opening the slim volume for the first time, Avery staff members gasped at the handwriting of thespian Ira Aldridge, an African American from New York who graced the London stage in the 19th century. Though celebrated in England and the European continent, Aldridge also faced enormous prejudice due to his race. Invoking the sentiments of the Prince of Morocco in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Aldridge quoted, “Mislike me not for my complexion, / The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun.” With these words, Aldridge welcomed American refugees William and Ellen Craft to England and issued a shared plea for equality.

Created upon the Crafts’ entrée into English abolitionist circles, this tribute book contains passages and quotations written by well-known supporters, including the American author Harriet Beecher Stowe as well as Ira Aldridge and his wife, the Swedish countess Amanda Aldridge. A cartes-de-visite album of these figures, the Crafts, and other abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison provides a rich visual counterpart to the volume and hints at the international importance of these materials.

Harriet Beecher Stowe writes to the Crafts.

Harriet Beecher Stowe quotes two biblical passages as she writes to the Crafts.

But just who were the Crafts and how did they emerge as public figures in the transatlantic abolitionist movement?
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The Art of Book Collecting

What drives someone to collect something?  An attempt to revive a faded memory?  The pride that comes from finding a rare piece no one else has?   A penchant for the history behind a set of stamps?  Or maybe the peculiar sound of engines from certain brands of cars?  The reasons why someone pursues a collection of things are many.

When it comes to the realm of books, the reasons for collecting a set can be just as varied. Some book collectors may want to acquire the writings of a certain group or movement. Others might desire all of the first editions of a specific author.

I recently had the pleasure to re-assemble the books that the collector William Stewart amassed over the course of many years.  When it comes to the Stewart Collection at the Avery Research Center, it was difficult for me to instantly find the bond that unites the various books that comprise it.  With some books dating to years as early as 1838 (Recollections of a Southern Matron by Carolina H. Gilman) and spanning nearly the entire 20th century (Gullah Night Before Christmas by Virginia M. Geraty), the time frame is as broad as the subjects covered.  I later learned of William Stewart’s professional life as a linguist and his specialization in Gullah, which explains many of the regional works.  But one aspect that literally draws ones eye to the collection, however, is the simple visual appeal.

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