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Collecting Americana: Find Your Focus

By Kristin Masters. Oct 1, 2013. 9:35 AM.

Topics: American History, Rare Books, Book Collecting

The term "Americana" can seem a nebulous one, especially to new rare book collectors. It encompasses much more than simply American history; experts often define Americana as any written items produced in the Western hemisphere from the time that Columbus and his contemporaries arrived in the Americas. So if the term "Americana" applies to books, manuscripts, and ephemera produced over the course of nearly six centuries, over multiple continents, where the heck should a collector begin?!?

Narrowing Down Americana

How many collectors focus their collections simply on literature? Not so many; the category is too broad. Instead, you'll find collectors who collect single authors like Doris Lessing or Philip Roth, or perhaps those who concentrate on James Bond books. The same can--and must--be done with the category of Americana if you are to build a meaningful and focused collection.

Select a sub-section of Americana that appeals to you. This approach will allow you to get more personal enjoyment from your collection, and it will make the research required to build your collection much more manageable. There are several ways of choosing a specialty within the broad category of Americana.

Regional History

Many collectors decide to concentrate on the history of a specific region. Common areas of interest, for example, are Californiana or CarolinianaScreen_shot_2013-09-30_at_12.06.39_AMBut virtually any region offers its own fascinations for rare book collectors: Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County recounts the challenges and privations of pioneer life in Ohio, while Camping in the Rocky Mountains is a particularly scarce account of camping in Colorado.


Screen_shot_2013-09-30_at_12.20.00_AMOne appealing aspect of Americana is that it includes so many different kinds of materials. The literature of American authors like Mark Twain falls into the category of Americana, as do more apparently mundane primary-source documents like Reports and Other Documents Relating to the State Lunatic Hospital at Worchester. The wealth and variety of journals and travel writing also make these suitable, interesting areas of concentration for an Americana collection, as do autobiographical works such as the autobiography of legendary "bushwacker" Rob Roy.

Historic Events


Major events like the Civil War certainly shifted the course of history and resulted in a plethora of fascinating literature, from maps and records to first-hand accounts of soldiers' lives like A Texan in Search of a FightBuilding a collection around such a momentous historical event is a common approach to Americana collecting, but less expected events can also fuel a fascinating collection. The invention of the telephone was truly significant, and one could build an engaging personal library of books like The Transmitted Word.

Movements and Ideas


Social concepts like temperance or abolition have deep roots in the history of the Americas. The literature of these movements offers a gripping perspective on how cultural attitudes change over time, impacting not only politics and economics, but also social institutions. Peter Burnett's address to the inhabitants of New Mexico and California is a rare artifact of abolitionism. Other ideas were less mainstream, making them all the more interesting. Noyeism Unveiled reveals the exploits of John Humphrey Noyes, whose sect was a precursor to the Oneida community.

These are just a few of the potential areas of focus for an Americana collection; the possibilities are endless! We' invite you to browse our latest list of select acquisitions in Americana, which includes over 160 items. If you have inquiries about an item, please don't hesitate to contact us!

Browse Featured Americana

Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


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