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TL v57n4 Some Unrecorded Early Tennessee Imprints
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 57 Number 4 



Some Unrecorded Early Tennessee Imprints

in the Special Collections department of 

James E. Walker Library, Middle Tennessee State University 

Alan Boehm
Special Collections, Walker Library

Middle Tennessee State University


Historians, rare book librarians, and others with a professional or personal interest in America’s national bibliography regard Ronald R. Allen’s Tennessee Imprints:  1791-1875 as the authoritative record of early books and other bibliographic objects printed and published in Tennessee [1]. Indeed, the numbers Allen assigns Tennessee books as unique identifiers—-not surprisingly, they are widely known as “Allen numbers”—-often appear in the sales catalogs of antiquarian book dealers and in the bibliographic records of research library catalogs, for they serve as a reliable means of distinguishing particular Tennessee publications. 

In compiling Tennessee Imprints, Allen’s labors were no doubt daunting as he sought to establish a comprehensive record of the state’s early printing and publishing activity.  But Allen was not the first bibliographer to compile a list of early Tennessee imprints, for there were several preliminary efforts at identifying books printed or published in the state’s fledgling years. Among other preceding bibliographies, these include Douglas McMurtrie’s 1933 Early Printing in Tennessee, which covers the years 1793 to 1830, and the checklist put together by the Tennessee Historical Records Survey and initially set forth in 1941 as the List of Tennessee Imprints, 1793-1840 [2]. The scope of these and other works is typically limited, mainly because their compilers tended to focus attention on a specific period or locale or on the holdings of libraries.  Allen, however, sought to assemble a comprehensive record of state imprints beginning with the first items issued in Tennessee, the 1791 numbers of the Knoxville Gazette, and all other publications produced in Tennessee up to and including 1875, at which point Tennessee imprints are recorded with more or less reliable regularity in such publications as Publisher’s Trade List Annual, which initially appeared in 1874, and Publisher’s Weekly, which began publication in 1872.  

A bibliographic work with the scope of Tennessee Imprints is bound to contain numerous omissions.  Despite his attempts to acquire full and accurate bibliographic information, Allen prudently recognized that various imprints would escape his notice.  “Certainly, this work does not include all printed items for the period through 1875,” he notes in his preface, for “unknown items have continued to surface, and by the time this book is in print I am sure others will have been discovered” [3]. Among these “unknown items” are the nine books described below.  

In describing these unrecorded Tennessee imprints, I should mention a few methodological matters.  First, all nine books have been acquired by and are among the holdings of the Special Collections department at Walker Library of Middle Tennessee State University.  Accordingly, the bibliographic information reported here is taken from volumes in hand and not from other sources.  This eliminates the possibility of referring to items commonly known among bibliographers as “ghosts”--that is, non-existent editions inadvertently created when bibliographic information is mistakenly or incorrectly recorded in written or printed sources.  Incidentally, Tennessee Imprints probably includes some number of ghost editions, chiefly because Allen could not, in the breadth of his aims, personally inspect all 8,786 entries reported there but was compelled to consult various reference and bibliographic resources, some of which undoubtedly take notice of non-existent books.   

A second matter I should mention is that, following Allen’s practice, the books listed below are recognized by the imprecise term of “imprint” (even though I use the word “edition” casually in the descriptions).  As a bibliographic designation, “imprint” is something of a convenience, for it ignores a book’s technical status as an “edition” or as an “impression” or “printing.”  “Edition,” at least with regard to the period of letterpress book production, carries a specific meaning.  As Fredson Bowers famously remarked, in its purest form it signifies “the whole number of copies of a book printed at any time or times from substantially the same setting of type-pages” [4].   

The effort to identify separate editions was undoubtedly impractical for Allen, insofar as he would have been compelled to inspect and collate hundreds, if not thousands, of books to determine their exact bibliographic nature.  Moreover, Allen was not merely interested in recording Tennessee books, but in suggesting the whole of the state’s early printing and publishing activity, which included newspapers, journals, and other serials as well as various sorts of printed ephemera.  Accordingly, the bibliographically less precise but more comprehensive term “imprint” is wholly appropriate.  It allows us to take notice of the unrecorded 1855 Family Government (noted below) as a bibliographic object that is distinguishable from the recorded 1854 Family Government, even though both volumes--produced from the same stereotype plates--are typographically identical in every detail except the different publication dates placed on their title pages. 

Finally, where it seems relevant to an entry, I have noted other copies reported by OCLC as a way of emphasizing or substantiating the discrete identity of an unrecorded imprint.  I also do this because taking notice of other copies should serve as a reminder that an “unrecorded” imprint is not necessarily an “unknown” imprint, but rather an imprint either not recognized or not yet recognized by the authoritative or otherwise cogent bibliography.   In the realm of Tennessee imprints, of course, that bibliography would be Allen’s work.    

The Unrecorded Tennessee Imprints 

Langdon Cheves.  Speech of Hon. Langdon Cheves, in the Southern Convention, at Nashville, Tenn., November 14, 1850.  [Nashville.  1850.] 

Allen records a 30-page edition issued at Nashville in 1850 (Allen 2889) or rather presumed to be issued there and in that year, for extant copies only have a caption title page.  MTSU, however, has acquired a 36-page edition that is not noted by Allen.  It, too, has a caption title page and, like the 30-page edition, it presumably was printed in Nashville in 1850.  There are OCLC records for three other copies of this 36-page edition.  

James O. Andrew.  Family Government:  A Treatise on Conjugal, Parental, and Filial Duties.  Nashville.  1855.

Allen reports 1854, 1856, and 1859 editions of Andrew’s work (Allen 3340, 3867, and 4581, respectively).  Allen does not report this 1855 edition; OCLC reports no other copies of this edition except the MTSU copy.   

Joseph Cross.  Pizgah-views of the Promised Inheritances:  A Series of Dissertations on the Unaccomplished Prophecies.  New York, Nashville, and Charleston.  1856.

Cross’s work was printed in New York City and published there as well as at Charleston (where Cross lived) and Nashville.  

George Smith; revised by Thomas O. Summers.  Origin and Progress of Language.  Nashville.  1857.

OCLC reports two other copies of this edition in addition to the MTSU copy.    

William A. Smith.  Lectures on the Philosophy and Practice of Slavery:  As Exhibited in the Institution of Domestic Slavery in the United States.  Nashville.  1857.

Allen records the 1856 edition (Allen 4125) but not the 1857 edition.   

Edward Stevenson.  Biographical Sketch of the Rev. Valentine Cook.  Nashville.  1858.

OCLC records a total of 15 copies, including the MTSU copy.   

Hartwell J. Perry.  The Three Sisters:  A Brief Sketch of the Lives and Death of Ann Eliza, Hester Jane, and Laura Washington.  Nashville.  1860.

Allen reports three Tennessee editions of this work published in 1856, 1859, and 1873 (Allen 4151, 4780, and 8065).  Thomas O. Summers is given as author of the 1856 edition.  The MTSU copy appears to be the only extant example of the 1860 edition.  

Thomas O. Summers, ed.  Australia and its Settlements.  Nashville.  1861.

Allen records an edition of 1871 (Allen 7340) but does not include this earlier edition. 

Masonic Text-book of Tennessee.  Nashville.  1866.

Allen records an 1867 edition (Allen 6478) and an 1874 edition (Allen 8294).  OCLC records six copies of the 1866 edition, including the MTSU copy. 


      1  Ronald R. Allen, Tennessee Imprints:  1791-1875 (Knoxville:  privately printed, 1987).

      2  Douglas McMurtrie, Early Printing in Tennessee, With a Bibliography of the Issues of the Tennessee Press, 1793-1830 (Chicago:  Chicago Club of Printing House Craftsmen, 1933) and Tennessee Historical Records Survey, List of Tennessee Imprints, 1793-1840, in Tennessee Libraries (Nashville:  Tennessee Historical Records Survey, 1941).  The Tennessee Historical Survey also issued a checklist of Tennessee imprints covering the years 1841-1850.  These comprise the Tennessee portion of the American Imprints Inventory, all of which were undertaken under the auspices of the federal government’s Works Projects Administration.

      3  Allen [vii].

      4  Fredson Bowers, Principles of Bibliographic Description (New York:  Russell and Russell, 1962):  39.

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