Friday, August 1, 2014

TBAS Library Highlights: Rare Book from American Printer Isaiah Thomas



A battered, heavily worn leather binding from the nineteenth century conceals one of the gems of the Tampa Book Arts Studio Library Collections: the Columbian Dictionary of the English Language published in 1800 by the great American printer and patriot Isaiah Thomas in partnership with his friend and fellow publisher Ebenezer T. Andrews.

Our copy is a gift from our collections chief, J. B. Dobkin, and is one of only nine surviving copies that we have been able to locate in libraries throughout the world. Dobkin describes it as "extremely rare."   Our copy is inscribed with the name of John Lesslie, who lived with his wife, Polly Hyde, in Plymouth, Vermont.

The book was compiled by Yale-educated Massachusetts teacher Caleb Alexander and includes “many new words peculiar to the United States, and many words of general use not found in any other English Dictionary.”  The elaborate title page also states that “the whole is calculated to assist foreigners in acquiring a just pronunciation of the English language, and to be used as a school book by any who wish to study the language grammatically.”

Isaiah Thomas was born in Boston in 1749 and in his youth was apprenticed to a printer.  He is widely known for his publication of the famous eighteenth-century newspaper named the Massachusetts Spy, which he established just about the time he turned twenty-one. In it he championed American Patriot politics from 1770 to 1776 and the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.  Thomas also printed and published the New England Almanac (1775-1803), published many other important books, established a paper mill, and wrote and published the first comprehensive printing history in the U.S.,  The History of Printing in America (1808).


1 comment:

Gary Johanson said...

Carl, I wonder if anyone has done research on David Charlisle, who printed "The American Herbal" in 1801? I have one of the few copies left, it was America's first Materia Media. The Author, Dr. Samuel Stearns is a story in his own right, but I believe the printer was apprenticed at the "Massachusetts Spy", and may have actually used their old press, relocated to Wapole VT, to print this book.