The Deterioration of The Poems of Celia Thaxter

Colby College’s copy of the Appledore edition of The Poems of Celia Thaxter has many signs of use and ownership. Judging from evidence found in its pages, the book has had at least 2 owners, both residing in New England. The book has suffered extensive damage from a variety of causes, probably in the hands of the book’s first owner. It has been used, both as a book for much contemplation and analysis, as well as a book for decoration in a collection. It is unclear if Colby College acquired the book in 1961, 1968, or 1990, but the previous owner made a donation during each of those years.

In 1896 The Poems of Celia Thaxter was published, and probably bought by a book seller. On the flyleaf it says, “First Edition 1st/5.00” written in pencil. The book is not a first edition, so this might mean that the bookseller was lying to get more money for for it, or they were mistaken. As it is the highest price listed on the pages, it was probably the book’s original price, as the book was unused so far. On the fly leaf of the book it says, “y-s 3.00.” Because this price is less than the first price mentioned, it is probably the price that a used bookseller sold the book for later on. The “y-s” couldpossibly be a categorization code of the bookseller.

The first person to record their ownership of the book was Jennie W. Basford. She signed and dated one of the blank pages before the title page. The date she gave is August 21, 1897. Because this date is so close to the publication date, it is probable that Jennie was the book’s first owner. Jennie W. Basford was born in Rhode Island in 1844, but eventually moved to Suffolk Massachusetts, married Henry Basford, who was 36 years her senior, had two children, Joseph and Geo Basford, and worked as a housekeeper. On the same page as her signature and the date, Jennie wrote, “Atlantic House, Nantasket.” The Atlantic House was a hotel on Nantasket Beach, well known for its architectural beauty, and often used as the subject of paintings. Jennie W. Basfordpossibly bought the book while on vacation in Nantasket. Below the location, Jennie quoted the poet Richard Watson Gilder. “They who love the poets will never lack a friend- Up the road and down the road, And to the very end.” Richard Watson Gilder was a lesser known civil war poet. Though it is probably a coincidence, Gilder and Basford were both born in 1844.

Jennie W. Basford wrote a variety of marginalia throughout The Poems of Celia Thaxter, including marks on specific titles in the index, brackets around stanzas, and underlined words and phrases. She used the book often, and chose specific poems to go back to. On page 31, she wrote “Aug. 21- ‘97.” This was the date also written on the first page, so we can assume that Basford read and appreciated the poem, “A Summer Day” her first time opening the book. On page 133, a business card for “J C Huntington General Contractors” is used as a bookmark. The poem on that page is “Starlight.” Possibly, this was the last poem that Jennie read, marking her place before setting the book down. There are no records for a J C Huntington General Contractors company.

The second and last owner to record their ownership of The Poems of Celia Thaxter is Rosamond Thaxter. Abook plate reading, “From the Library of Miss Rosamond Thaxter,” and portraying the painting, The Wave, is on the page opposite the title page. Born in 1895, Rosamond was Celia Thaxter’s granddaughter. During her life, she was a philanthropist, speaker and writer, and had a large collection of literature. The Rosamond Thaxter Estate is now a charity organization that provides donations towards causes that promote history, art, social services, land conservation, and education.


Rosamond Thaxter probably didn’t use The Poems of Celia Thaxter often. The binding is very stiff, which suggests that it has been kept on a shelf for a long time. The book was not kept in a stable environment, which suggest neglect. There is significant water damage on most pages of the book, as well as both covers. Almost every page has been torn slightly, either near the edges, of near the spine. There are black, white, and brown smudges on the covers which could be the remnants of mold, and there are a few black fingerprints throughout the pages. Whoever handled the book did not take much care. Colby College eventually was gifted The Poems of Celia Thaxter, but not before it had accumulated much damage.