[DECORATION AND USE] Abbott’s “The Young Astronomer” (Shaw’s Pet Book)

This is the kind of book that would lend itself well to having marginalia, and yet there is almost none. This is most likely in part due to its place in a collection. The book plate at the front of the book states “Gift of Harland H. Eastman, Colby 1951.” Currently, the book stands as part of the Harland H. Eastman Collection, which contains works by John S.C. Abbott, his brother Jacob Abbott, Sophie May, Penn Shirley, and several other authors that have at least some connection to the State of Maine. All of these books are from the 19th and 20th centuries and most of them are written for children. Eastman is a self-proclaimed collector of rare and antique books and is also an alumnus of Colby College, thus explaining what must have been part of his decision to donate his collection. I could not find documentation of ownership prior to its place in Eastman’s collection, nor did Special Collections have any information on this. This leaves a gap of over 80 years that we don’t know the ownership. There’s no apparent evidence in the book itself and documentation online and in Special Collections is slim of the path of ownership. It seems as if there’s something written underneath the current Colby bookplate, but in the interest of not damaging the book, it was better to leave it unexamined.

Given its place in a private collection, there’s not much physical evidence of usage in the book. The back of the cover is faded from light damage, indicating it was placed in a position exposed to sunlight for quite some time. The front cover has a very small scrape in the cloth, but it doesn’t penetrate enough to be anything beyond noticeable. The front cover also has some discolored spots, possibly from water damage. There’s an uninterpretable scribble on the same page as the bookplate. This is most likely either an attempt at a signature or someone simply testing out their pencil. I flipped through every page and noticed no other added marginalia. The top right corner of the first page is clipped off. The only reason for this I can think of is that it was price-clipped to remove the labels of purchase. There’s wear to the corners of the book’s spine and some slight color scrubbing, yet the pages themselves are in incredible condition. Besides the clipped corner, they’re quite excellent. The book’s cover seems to have undergone a different life than the actual text held within. This could indicate the book’s physical transportation and heavy handling while never actually being used for its intended purpose as a textbook.

To briefly discuss the illustrations, there are many throughout and they’re all wood engravings. Some show through slightly on the opposite page, indicating pressure between the pages that lead them to rub off. The very first illustration paired with the title pages depicts a young person studying astronomy. All of the other illustrations in the text serve as reference for the text itself. They are diagrams that serve to depict the points Abbott is conveying. The front cover is an example of a gold-stamped vignette. It functions as a label of this book as a scientific and educational text. The use of illustration in this text is almost purely practical, with slight decorative choices made throughout. Beyond this, there role doesn’t extend very far.

 

This book makes it very clear that astronomy is a field that we’re still learning much about and that there’s much information that we do not know and much of our information may still be incorrect. While we can be more definite about certain concepts and facts in the 21st century, things were not so clear at the end of the 19th. Given this, when first picking my book I assumed that there might be several notes and corrections throughout the book. There was not a single note and I couldn’t find evidence of another edition published later than the one I’m studying. I did not read the text close enough nor do I have a deep enough understanding of astronomy to determine the factual validity of all of the information presented in the text, however I’m sure there are quite a few discrepancies. This book was written to be used, whether it be in class, in private study, or casual knowledge seeking. Instead, it was stored away, kept in good condition by not using it, and valued as an antique. While this book is physically in’ excellent condition for a book over a century old, there’s no evidence that it even fulfilled its initial purpose. Other copies of this text may very well have been staples for education, but this particular one fell into the cycle of rarity and collection.

Works Cited

  • Abbott, John S. C. The Young Astronomer, Or, the Facts Developed by Modern Astronomy: Collected for the Use of Schools and the General Reader. , 1858. Internet resource.
  • “Harland Eastman Collection | Special Collections.” Colby College, www.colby.edu/specialcollections/about/harland-eastman-collection/.