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Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - A 17-foot timeline

This large, folding chromolithograph (it's over 6.5m long) is Adams' Illustrated Panorama of History (London & Paris, A. H. Walker, 1878). First published in 1871 under the title Synchronological Chart by the Oregon pioneer minister Sebastian C. Adams, and in various later editions under different titles, this was, for a timeline chart, 'nineteenth-century America's surpassing achievement in complexity and synthetic power. Adams, who lived all of his early life at the very edge of U.S. territory, was a schoolteacher and one of the founders of the first Bible college in Oregon. Born in Ohio in 1825 and educated in the early 1840s at the brand-new Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, at the heart of the American abolitionist movement, Adams was a voracious reader, a broad thinker, and an inveterate improver. The Synchronological Chart is a great work of outsider thinking and a template for autodidact study; it attempts to rise above the station of a mere historical summary and to draw a picture of history rich enough to serve as a textbook in itself.
Published on 29 May 2015
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By Simon Beattie


Some time ago I started cataloguing recently-acquired material in preparation for the London International Antiquarian Book Fair. I’m not sure how this will fit on the stand, but…

This large, folding chromolithograph (it’s over 6.5m long) is Adams’ Illustrated Panorama of History (London & Paris, A. H. Walker, 1878). First published in 1871 under the title Synchronological Chart by the Oregon pioneer minister Sebastian C. Adams, and in various later editions under different titles, this was, for a timeline chart, ‘nineteenth-century America’s surpassing achievement in complexity and synthetic power. Adams, who lived all of his early life at the very edge of U.S. territory, was a schoolteacher and one of the founders of the first Bible college in Oregon. Born in Ohio in 1825 and educated in the early 1840s at the brand-new Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, at the heart of the American abolitionist movement, Adams was a voracious reader, a broad thinker, and an inveterate improver. The Synchronological Chart is a great work of outsider thinking and a template for autodidact study; it attempts to rise above the station of a mere historical summary and to draw a picture of history rich enough to serve as a textbook in itself.

‘Adams’ Synchronological Chart was big—seventeen feet long and more than two feet tall—but it was also visually richer than its contemporaries. Though he conceived it in far-away Salem, Oregon, Adams traveled east to have his chart made by the virtuoso Cincinnati lithographers Strobridge & Co., a firm that produced precision maps, details engravings of Civil War scenes, travelogues, and colorful advertisements for commercial clients including theaters and circuses. In its final form, Adams’ chart embodied characteristics of all of these: it was huge and detailed, packed with information, and a riot of color …

‘Adams initially produced the chart independently by selling subscriptions and investing his own money. But after the 1871 edition, his work was picked up by printers in different American cities and then in England as well. Indeed, it is still available in colourful facsimile today’ (Daniel Rosenberg & Anthony Grafton, Cartographies of Time, pp. 172–3).


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(Posted on Simon Beattie's blog "The Books You Never Knew You Wanted", presented here by permission of the author. Pictures: Simon Beattie)


London International Antiquarian Book Fair 2015


The London International Antiquarian Book Fair takes place at National Hall, Olympia, from Thursday 28th to Saturday 30th May, showcasing thousands of rare, unusual and unique items from across the globe.

Opening hours:

Thursday 2 pm – 8 pm
Friday 11 am – 7 pm
Saturday 11 am – 5 pm

For more information, please visit the offical website www.olympiabookfair.com

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