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Prominent Revolutionary Printer Isaiah Thomas Chronicles the Early History of Printing in America
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Amidst the darkness which surrounds the discovery of many of the arts, it has been ascertained that it is practicable to trace the Introduction and progress of Printing, in the northern part of America, to the period of the revolution. A history of this kind has not, until now, been attempted, although the subject, in one point of view, is more interesting to us than to any other nation. We are able to convey to posterity, a correct account of the manner in which we have grown up to be an independent people, and can delineate the progress of the useful and polite arts among us, with a degree of certainty which cannot be attained by the nations of the old world, in respect to themselves.” (p10)

It is true, that in the course of fifty years, during which I have been intimately connected with the art, I became acquainted with many of its respectable professors; some of whom had, long before me, been engaged in business.” (p10)

The history of printing in America, I have brought down to the most important event in the annals of our country—the Revolution.” (p15)

ISAIAH THOMAS. The History of Printing in America, 2 vols. First edition. Worcester, MA: Isaiah Thomas, 1810. Contemporary sheep, flat spines gilt, red morocco lettering-piece gilt; green chemises and quarter morocco slipcase. 1,063 pp., 5⅛ x 8⅛ in.

Inventory #23810       Price: $3,000

Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831) was born in Boston and apprenticed to printer Zechariah Fowle, with whom he formed a partnership in 1770. They published the Massachusetts Spy, but after three months, Thomas continued the publication alone. The royal governor ordered the attorney general to prosecute Thomas for his Whig views, but the grand jury refused to indict him. In 1774, Thomas published the Royal American Magazine for a short time. Three days before the Battle of Concord, in which he participated, Thomas moved his presses from Boston to Worcester. Thomas continued publication of the Massachusetts Spy there until 1802, with gaps from 1776 to 1778 and from 1786 to 1788; published and sold books; and built a paper mill and bindery. In 1802, he transferred the business to his son.  From 1775 to 1803, Thomas published the New England Almanac, which his son continued until 1819. In 1786, he was the first printer in the United States to use music type, and in 1791, he printed a folio edition of the Bible and of Isaac Watts’ Psalms and Hymns. He began a project on the history of printing in 1808, and he published it in two volumes in 1810. His grandson published a second edition in 1874.  In 1812, Thomas founded what became the American Antiquarian Society, and he donated 8,000 volumes from his collection and one of the most valuable files of newspapers in the country to the Society. On his death, he bequeathed his entire library and collection of early American newspapers to the American Antiquarian Society.

Signed by Thomas’ grandson, Benjamin Franklin Thomas (1813 –1878) who was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts and an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Condition: Occasional spotting or browning; some wear to extremities of covers and some chipping and loss to the spines.

Provenance: Benjamin F. Thomas (signatures on flyleaf and title-page); given to C. G. Perry (gift inscription on flyleaf); Laird U. Park, Jr. (1922-2001), Philadelphian, Americana collector; sold Sotheby’s New York, 29 November 2000, lot 348.

Grolier American 29; Howes T-168; Sabin 95495; Streeter sale 7:4176.

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