Cathleen Ni Hoolihan: Ownership and Usage

My edition of Cathleen Ni Hoolihan is not only special because of its interesting construction, but also because of its history as an object. This book was printed as one of 8 copies on vellum, so it is an extremely rare first edition. In addition to its value as a rare book, it also holds value because of its provenance. This edition was purchased directly off the press by an avid Irish book collector by the name of James Augustine Healy. The fact that we can trace this book from its printing to where it currently resides with very high accuracy is very enlightening, as we know that this book served the purpose that I originally assumed, which was as a collector’s edition.

            James Augustine Healy grew up in Portland, ME as a working-class boy. He toiled away as a dockworker until he had saved up enough money to buy a one-way ticket to New York City, where he began working as a runner on the New York Stock Exchange. Years later he has become one of the most successful and important stock traders in New York, making a large fortune in the process. He later became a voracious book collector, with a large interest in the literature of his ancestral homeland, Ireland. He collected many first editions and other writings of the Irish literary renaissance, including this copy of Cathleen Ni Hoolihan. Before his death, he donated his literary collection to Colby college, as he still felt a strong connection with Maine from his childhood.

This copy is in extremely good condition, and is completely untouched except for the fact that the pages, which were sold in an uncut condition, are now cut. This physical evidence fits with what we expect from the purpose of this edition. The fact that the pages are cut is a useful piece of info when attempting to understand the history of an individual book. This book was printed with its pages uncut, most likely as a way to give collectors their choice in whether to have their edition cut or uncut. The pages in this edition are extremely cleanly cut, which fits with the owner’s status. Healy either paid someone to cut his pages professionally, or has cut enough pages in the past to be an expert himself. This sheds light on the owner of this edition, and consequently, the life of this book in particular.

In general, this edition is in pristine condition. James Augustine Healy was a serious collector of books, and knew how to treat them. I doubt that this book was read by Healy more than once, if that; this assumption is based on the condition of the book, as well as the fact that Healy owned many books for reading. It makes sense according to this theory that the book would have very little signs of use, like we have observed.

While this book doesn’t show many signs of use, that doesn’t mean we can’t extrapolate its history. We know from Colby Special Collections records that the book was purchased directly off the press by Healy, and subsequently was donated to the school. This history fits with the observed signs of use, which are extremely lacking in terms of number. The fact that the pages are cut, and that there are very few other observable incidences of usage, shows that this book was mainly owned for its value, and not as a readable material.



James Augustine Healy