Pet Book Project #1: Introducing “The Federalist: on the New Constitution”


The book I decided on is The Federalist: on the new Constitution, written by Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Jay and Mr. Madison. It was published by Benjamin Warner in 1817 and printed by William Greer. The book is a collection of the Federalist Papers, a series of essays written in support of the new Constitution. These essays are relatively short, however among the three authors they total an impressive eighty-five individual pieces. I choose this book because the Federalist Papers were a topic I recognized from my history classes and while I knew they were important I never got a chance to actually read them. The Federalist Papers were an extremely influential set of essays so I was really excited to figure out how they were represented in books at the time.

The book made its way to Colby’s shelves sometime between 1821 and 1867. While there is no concrete date, there is a marking within the book that suggests it was bought on June 30th, 1837, however there is no way to guarantee this note was made in relationship to its purchase. The physical book is in many ways similar to its content: Simple yet enthralling. The cover is made up of an aged leather with subtle discolorations. The spine is sectioned off into rectangles, each separated from the other by two thin golden bands. While most are comprised of the same brown leather that makes up the rest of the cover, one rectangle is a dark red and features the title of the book. While not too extravagant, the cover serves to imply that the interior is academic. The book is pretty large, about seven inches tall and four inches wide.

Upon opening the book there is evidence of a long history of use. Most obviously is the back cover, which has actually been broken off from the spine. There is also a page that has been torn out, however it seems as if it was a result of aging rather than a single act.  There are two book plates on the front cover, both from Colby College. Marginalia can be found all over the place, particularly at the front of the book. Lots of dates are written, potentially from previous book keepers attempting to figure out the age of the book or the publisher. There are also notes made from previous renters of the book, as well as a library card with the dates and names of everyone who checked out the book from the library. These dates range from the 19040’s to the 1960’s, each entry providing another sliver of knowledge. Some, however, create more questions than answers. One entry is under the name Moses Silverman, with the numbers 3-3-48 and the words “class 1969”. Chronologically, this note is after entries from the year 1961 and 1964, implying that it was taken out sometime between 1965 and 1969. So, what does 3-3-48 mean? Maybe it was an accidental entry, or it is some sort of student id. We don’t know, but it’s another mystery to investigate.

The paper of the book is thicker than the paper we would find today. Given the age of this book the technology for thin and durable paper had not been found so publishers used thicker pages. The font is pretty small but not unbearably so. Despite the font size, the book is pretty thick. The pages are all a uniform length and width, yet some are in better condition than the others. The pages towards the back have large stains. Still, the pages turn relatively easily. The text is surprisingly easy to read, despite the content being quite heavy. This is most likely due to the fact that these essays were for the general populace to read, meaning they had to be easy to understand. There is an extremely detailed table of contents, with penciled marks next to certain chapters, perhaps previous readers marking the more interesting essays. There does not seem to be too much of an order to the essays, suggesting it is possible for the reader to jump around from essay to essay without missing a greater theme. The book is not only text, as there are also portraits of each of the authors. These portraits were included as this book was the ‘new edition’ version. While a very simple black and white drawing, these illustrations added an element of character to the book, as the readers could connect more with the text as they could visualize where it was coming from.

Something worth stressing is the feeling this books gives to the reader. Maybe it is just because I know what the impact of the federalist papers have been, but holding the book gives an immediate sense of importance, as you can easily convey that the material within is important.