Pet Book #1 – Washington Irving’s ‘Astoria’

For my pet book, I have chosen Washington Irving’s Astoria; or, Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains, an account of various expeditions around and to Fort Astoria commissioned of Irving by John Jacob Astor. I chose this book for a number of reasons: first, I was interested in working on a multi-volume book, as I felt the idea of a ‘book’ which spans across two separate physical objects offers an interesting opportunity to think about what constitutes a ‘book’ as an entity. I was also very interested in the map which is inserted in the second volume, and I hope to learn more about the printing techniques involved in the production of that map, the details of its inclusion in the book, and about the practice of including paratextual materials like maps in general. I did not actually register at first that this particular Washington Irving was the famous author, which was more due to the subject of the text than anything else.

The books themselves are quite unassuming; two green tomes, bound in embossed cloth with imitation gold-gilding on the edge. There is quite a bit of material which appears to have faded away along the edge, and the embossed cloth cover has not aged particularly well. The book is printed on cheap, machine made paper, and the text is awkwardly fit on the page. I suspect that this may be a deluxe edition of a book also published in a smaller format, using the same type for both editions. This would also explain the presence of the map in the second volume, the inclusion of which seems to suggest that this particular version of the set was more expensive.

Both volumes list Carey, Lea and Blanchard as the publishers, and a small note on the page opposite lists Henry W. Rees as the stereotyper. There is also an epigram noting that the book was entered by Irving at the Clerk’s Office in Washington DC, while the book itself appears to have been stereotyped in New York and published out of Philadelphia. The last pages of the second volume include a number of advertisements for other books published by Carey, Lea and Blanchard, which are primarily historical accounts and travel writing; there is also advertised a large, 3-volume, 1800 page geographical collection. The only other books advertised by Irving also account for the only works of fiction included in the catalog.

The inside front covers of both volumes of the book display curious marks of ownership, text which I cannot, for the most part, decipher, except the following: “The story of the unsuccessful attempts of John Jacob Astor…” The second volume includes a note which seems to say that this is the first edition, and that the second volume also contains the aforementioned map. On the inside back cover of the second volume there is, I believe, a name written, but I am not quite sure whose name it is.

I am very excited to continue to study Astoria. I have found an electronic version of the text online, and I am looking forward to considering the different iterations that this text has taken and the effects of these various editions on the reception and experience of the book.

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