Western Americana

The American Antiquarian Society holds an extensive collection of materials dealing with the Trans-Mississippi West: histories of discovery and exploration, guides for settlers, descriptions of the countryside, and expositions of the manners and modes of living in the frontier West. The core of these holdings is the Donald McKay Frost Collection of more than four thousand titles that Frost acquired over thirty years. His collection, given to the Society in 1947, includes not only overland narratives but also town and local histories and biographies of early settlers. Frost was an ardent collector and tried to purchase all the rare things offered him, including all editions of a work. AAS lacked 1,775 of the titles Frost had acquired but already owned some of the early titles and also a large number of government imprints and literary titles that had not been of interest to Frost.

Many of the Frost books are in excellent condition. The collection contains some association copies bearing author's signatures. Among items of interest are memoirs of the Lewis and Clark expedition; personal recollections of Zebulon Pike; navigators for rivers, including descriptions of towns, ports, and harbors; accounts of the Indian land titles and treaties; and emigration guides for journeying through, and settling in, the American West. Among the more notable items in the collection are History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark (Philadelphia, 1814) and John Ledyard's A Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (Hartford, 1783).

The Society holds about 35 percent of the most important titles listed in the Henry R. Wagner-Charles L. Camp bibliography, The Plains and the Rockies: A Bibliography of Original Narratives of Travel and Adventure, 1800-1865 (San Francisco, 1982).

Items dealing with the development of the West may be found in other collections at AAS as well. Researchers will find relevant materials in the collections of Dated Pamphlets and Dated Books; Local, County, and State histories; Newspapers and Periodicals; Graphics Arts (for maps); and in the Biography collection. Access to all this material is through the card catalogs. In addition, the acquisitions staff annotates the 1937 edition of Wagner-Camp's The Plains and the Rockies to reflect additions to the Society's collection of Western Americana. In 1991 the Society published an exhibition catalog of materials from this collection: "Go West and Grow Up with the Country": An Exhibition of Nineteenth-Century Guides to the American West in the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society.

The Society continues to add to this collection, but items rarely appear on the market. When they do, they are purchased on the Donald McKay Frost Fund, which was created by the bequest of that outstanding collector.

Other items of interest to the researcher of Western Americana are found in local histories for the states that comprise the Trans-Mississippi West as well as railroads, canals, and bibliographies collections. Materials on mining, and gold-mining in particular, may also be of interest. A more recent bibliography on the gold rush, Gary F. Kurutz's The California Gold Rush: a Descriptive Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets Covering the Years 1848-1853, (San Francisco, 1997) has been reviewed and annotated by Marcus A. McCorison to reflect AAS holdings. A copy of that annotations list is available for researchers' use.

Materials in this collection published before 1800 and between 1821 and 1840 have been cataloged online . Other holdings are represented by cards in the card catalog and in checklists. Work proceeds on upgrading existing cataloging of items from the time period 1801 through 1820 which are cataloged only briefly online.

- S.J. Wolfe, Senior Cataloger

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