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2002-12, 328, Book Reviews, Colin Steele

‘America Pictured To The Life. Illustrated Works from the Paul Mellon Bequest.’ George A. Miles and William S. Reese.

New Haven, The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, 2002 pp125 ISBN 0-8457-3138-6 $50.00. (Distributed by the University Press of New England, 23 S. Main Street. Hannover. New Hampshire. USA)

The Beinecke Library at Yale University is one of the world’s great rare book and manuscript libraries. Like most American research libraries it has benefited from the philanthropy of donors and, in the context of Yale University, of none more so than Paul Mellon, Class of 1929. Mellon, who died in 1999, donated significant treasures to the Yale Center for British Art and the Sterling Memorial Library as well as Beinecke. One of his least known collections, in the sense of public exhibition, was his Americana library which he retained at the Brick House on his estate in Virginia. This collection has been divided between the University of Virginia, the Virginia Historical Society and Yale. The collections of “Americana” cover artefacts, books, maps, and manuscripts reflecting American history, life and culture in the wider sense. Items covered range from the late sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

The exhibition comprising 98 items, only a small fraction of the total collection, was held at Yale from 3 May to 17 July 2002. The present sumptuous volume reflects that exhibition. The items described are divided into subject categories, namely Visual Directories, History, Utility, and Art and Amusement. Visual Directories covers illustrated typographical works such as the earliest lithographs produced in Cincinnati and the first illustrated book printed west of the Mississippi. History covers works which document, in fact or fiction, exploration and discovery from de Bry’s translation of Benzoni (1594) to Roesler’s War Scenes (1862).

Utility covers practical illustrations from technical manuals to scientific explanation to various forms of advertisement. Arts and Amusements range from drawing manuals to sheet music to children’s literature. One example in the latter is a marvellously rich and varied assortment of books, games and toys from the American publishing firm of McLoughlin Brothers. Each item is superbly illustrated, mostly in colour to an overall design by Greer Allen. One can almost touch the pop up chromolithograph of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Panorama for Children. Interestingly, in the global village, the book was printed and bound in Singapore.

The volume has been compiled by George Miles, curator of the Western Americana collection at Beinecke, and William Reese, whose piece on Paul Mellon was published in Antiquarian Book Review earlier this year. As Reese stated at the time “they don’t make collectors like this anymore”. In this context America Pictured to the Life stands as a memorial to the splendour of Paul Mellon’s bequest of Americana to Yale and as a reminder of the richness of Yale and the Beinecke as a resource to explore and research American history and culture.

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