slave-narrative

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference - so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial an hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.

Frederick Douglass, Appendix to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845

From Frederick Douglass, who the White House seems to think is still alive.

Black history month day 14: social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglas.

Frederick Douglas was born a slave in Maryland in February of 1818. It is likely that his father was also his first master. He celebrated his birthday on February 14, although there is no official record of his date of birth. He was taught the basics of reading by his master’s wife, but her husband discouraged it believing that an education would draw slaves to want freedom. Douglass later insisted that education was the pathway to freedom, and his eloquence stunned many people and challenged the idea that blacks were not capable of being educated enough to enter society as free citizens. In fact, Douglass was so well spoken that many accused him of having never been a slave.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies. Describing his experiences as a slave. His 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, became a bestseller and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855).

After the Civil War, Douglass remained an active abolitionist as well as a women’s suffragist. He was active in the Republican Party. Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.

After escaping slavery, Douglass married a free black woman, Anna Murray and the two remained married for over 40 years and had several children. After Anna died, Douglass remarried to a white feminist and abolitionist named Helen Pitts. Though interracial marriage was certainly rare at the time, Pitts and Douglass were quite in love and paid no mind to detractors, many within their own families. Douglass responded to the criticisms by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father.

Ben Carson’s “immigrants in the bottom of slave ship” narrative is exactly why the “we’re a nation of immigrants” mantra is so problematic. 

Rhiannon Giddens Speaks For The Silenced

Rhiannon Giddens’ new solo album, Freedom Highway, is an exploration of African-American experiences, accompanied by an instrument with its own uniquely African-American story: the banjo.

Giddens notes that the modern banjo draws from the African instrument known as the akonting, which is made from a gourd. “In the first 100 years of its existence, the [American] banjo was known as a plantation instrument, as a black instrument,” she says.

Giddens says the banjo seemed like the perfect fit for her album, which includes songs based on slave narratives, as well as a song she wrote in response to police shootings of young black men.

“Getting into the banjo and discovering that it was an African-American instrument, it totally turned on its head my idea of American music — and then, through that, American history,” Giddens says.

John Peets/Courtesy of the artist 

Black history month day 6: Olaudah Equiano.

Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vaasa, was a prominent African in London. He was a freed slave who supported the British movement to end the slave trade. His autobiography, published in 1789, helped in the creation of the Slave Trade Act 1807 which ended the African trade for Britain and its colonies. Equiano was part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of prominent Africans living in Britain, and he was active among leaders of the anti-slave trade in the 1780s.

Equiano’s book, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African”, is one of the earliest-known examples of published writing by an African writer to be widely read in England. By 1792, it was a best seller: it has been published in Russia, Germany, Holland, and the United States. It was the first influential slave narrative of what became a large literary genre. Equiano’s experience in slavery was quite different from that of most slaves as he did not participate in field work. Rather, he served his owners personally and went to sea, was taught to read and write, and worked in trading. Even after his freedom he continued to be an explorer and travel extensively everywhere from the Arctic to the United States.

His Life as a freed slave was stressful, and he suffered from suicidal thoughts until he became a born-again Christian and found peace in his faith. He married in English woman, Susannah Cullen, and together they had two children.

anonymous asked:

As a POC, I found your book problematic bc it has the slave owner/slave romance contained within. Elias is in a position of power as a soldier in the Empire. Even though Laia is pretending to be a slave, his MOTHER'S slave, he doesn't know that. He's attracted to her/kisses her knowingly as a 'slave'

A good point–it’s part of the reason I had Elias fight that attraction in the book. Every time he feels it, there’s usually an indication shortly after that he knows it’s wrong. He tries to control it for that exact reason–he gets that what he feels is morally bad. It’s also why I didn’t have Elias initiate the kiss with Laia–when they do end up kissing, he pushes her away, specifically saying that he is sorry and that he shouldn’t have done it because he is a Mask and she is a slave. 

I have always had a problem with the slave/owner romance narrative, whether it’s a story that takes place in America’s slave-owning past, a story that involves modern slavery–for example brick kiln workers in Pakistan, or as is the case in EMBER, a story that takes place in a setting like/resembling ancient Rome, which had a long, terrible history of slavery. I thought it was important to navigate the nuances of an oppressor/oppressed relationship very careful, which is why I purposely did NOT want Laia to trust Elias for a long time. 

But it’s absolutely possible that in the minds of some of Ember’s readers, I failed in navigating those nuances, so if that is the case, I apologize. I am always trying to learn and improve and will continue to strive to do so.

I was not raised in a racist home or environment. Living in the South, almost every White person has a small amount of racial awareness, simply beause of the numbers of negroes in this part of the country. But it is a superficial awareness. Growing up, in school, the White and black kids would make racial jokes toward each other, but all they were were jokes. Me and White friends would sometimes would watch things that would make us think that “blacks were the real racists” and other elementary thoughts like this, but there was no real understanding behind it.

The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?

From this point I researched deeper and found out what was happening in Europe. I saw that the same things were happening in England and France, and in all the other Western European countries. Again I found myself in disbelief. As an American we are taught to accept living in the melting pot, and black and other minorities have just as much right to be here as we do, since we are all immigrants. But Europe is the homeland of White people, and in many ways the situation is even worse there. From here I found out about the Jewish problem and other issues facing our race, and I can say today that I am completely racially aware.

Blacks

I think it is is fitting to start off with the group I have the most real life experience with, and the group that is the biggest problem for Americans.

Niggers are stupid and violent. At the same time they have the capacity to be very slick. Black people view everything through a racial lense. Thats what racial awareness is, its viewing everything that happens through a racial lense. They are always thinking about the fact that they are black. This is part of the reason they get offended so easily, and think that some thing are intended to be racist towards them, even when a White person wouldnt be thinking about race. The other reason is the Jewish agitation of the black race.

Black people are racially aware almost from birth, but White people on average dont think about race in their daily lives. And this is our problem. We need to and have to.

Say you were to witness a dog being beat by a man. You are almost surely going to feel very sorry for that dog. But then say you were to witness a dog biting a man. You will most likely not feel the same pity you felt for the dog for the man. Why? Because dogs are lower than men.

This same analogy applies to black and White relations. Even today, blacks are subconsciously viewed by White people are lower beings. They are held to a lower standard in general. This is why they are able to get away with things like obnoxious behavior in public. Because it is expected of them.

Modern history classes instill a subconscious White superiority complex in Whites and an inferiority complex in blacks. This White superiority complex that comes from learning of how we dominated other peoples is also part of the problem I have just mentioned. But of course I dont deny that we are in fact superior.

I wish with a passion that niggers were treated terribly throughout history by Whites, that every White person had an ancestor who owned slaves, that segregation was an evil an oppressive institution, and so on. Because if it was all it true, it would make it so much easier for me to accept our current situation. But it isnt true. None of it is. We are told to accept what is happening to us because of ancestors wrong doing, but it is all based on historical lies, exaggerations and myths. I have tried endlessly to think of reasons we deserve this, and I have only came back more irritated because there are no reasons.

Only a fourth to a third of people in the South owned even one slave. Yet every White person is treated as if they had a slave owning ancestor. This applies to in the states where slavery never existed, as well as people whose families immigrated after slavery was abolished. I have read hundreds of slaves narratives from my state. And almost all of them were positive. One sticks out in my mind where an old ex-slave recounted how the day his mistress died was one of the saddest days of his life. And in many of these narratives the slaves told of how their masters didnt even allowing whipping on his plantation.

Segregation was not a bad thing. It was a defensive measure. Segregation did not exist to hold back negroes. It existed to protect us from them. And I mean that in multiple ways. Not only did it protect us from having to interact with them, and from being physically harmed by them, but it protected us from being brought down to their level. Integration has done nothing but bring Whites down to level of brute animals. The best example of this is obviously our school system.

Now White parents are forced to move to the suburbs to send their children to “good schools”. But what constitutes a “good school”? The fact is that how good a school is considered directly corresponds to how White it is. I hate with a passion the whole idea of the suburbs. To me it represents nothing but scared White people running. Running because they are too weak, scared, and brainwashed to fight. Why should we have to flee the cities we created for the security of the suburbs? Why are the suburbs secure in the first place? Because they are White. The pathetic part is that these White people dont even admit to themselves why they are moving. They tell themselves it is for better schools or simply to live in a nicer neighborhood. But it is honestly just a way to escape niggers and other minorities.

But what about the White people that are left behind? What about the White children who, because of school zoning laws, are forced to go to a school that is 90 percent black? Do we really think that that White kid will be able to go one day without being picked on for being White, or called a “white boy”? And who is fighting for him? Who is fighting for these White people forced by economic circumstances to live among negroes? No one, but someone has to.

Here I would also like to touch on the idea of a Norhtwest Front. I think this idea is beyond stupid. Why should I for example, give up the beauty and history of my state to go to the Norhthwest? To me the whole idea just parralells the concept of White people running to the suburbs. The whole idea is pathetic and just another way to run from the problem without facing it.

Some people feel as though the South is beyond saving, that we have too many blacks here. To this I say look at history. The South had a higher ratio of blacks when we were holding them as slaves. Look at South Africa, and how such a small minority held the black in apartheid for years and years. Speaking of South Africa, if anyone thinks that think will eventually just change for the better, consider how in South Africa they have affirmative action for the black population that makes up 80 percent of the population.

It is far from being too late for America or Europe. I believe that even if we made up only 30 percent of the population we could take it back completely. But by no means should we wait any longer to take drastic action.

Anyone who thinks that White and black people look as different as we do on the outside, but are somehow magically the same on the inside, is delusional. How could our faces, skin, hair, and body structure all be different, but our brains be exactly the same? This is the nonsense we are led to believe.

Negroes have lower Iqs, lower impulse control, and higher testosterone levels in generals. These three things alone are a recipe for violent behavior. If a scientist publishes a paper on the differences between the races in Western Europe or Americans, he can expect to lose his job. There are personality traits within human families, and within different breeds of cats or dogs, so why not within the races?

A horse and a donkey can breed and make a mule, but they are still two completely different animals. Just because we can breed with the other races doesnt make us the same.

In a modern history class it is always emphasized that, when talking about “bad” things Whites have done in history, they were White. But when we lern about the numerous, almost countless wonderful things Whites have done, it is never pointed out that these people were White. Yet when we learn about anything important done by a black person in history, it is always pointed out repeatedly that they were black. For example when we learn about how George Washington carver was the first nigger smart enough to open a peanut.

On another subject I want to say this. Many White people feel as though they dont have a unique culture. The reason for this is that White culture is world culture. I dont mean that our culture is made up of other cultures, I mean that our culture has been adopted by everyone in the world. This makes us feel as though our culture isnt special or unique. Say for example that every business man in the world wore a kimono, that every skyscraper was in the shape of a pagoda, that every door was a sliding one, and that everyone ate every meal with chopsticks. This would probably make a Japanese man feel as though he had no unique traditional culture.

I have noticed a great disdain for race mixing White women within the White nationalists community, bordering on insanity it. These women are victims, and they can be saved. Stop.

Jews

Unlike many White naitonalists, I am of the opinion that the majority of American and European jews are White. In my opinion the issues with jews is not their blood, but their identity. I think that if we could somehow destroy the jewish identity, then they wouldnt cause much of a problem. The problem is that Jews look White, and in many cases are White, yet they see themselves as minorities. Just like niggers, most jews are always thinking about the fact that they are jewish. The other issue is that they network. If we could somehow turn every jew blue for 24 hours, I think there would be a mass awakening, because people would be able to see plainly what is going on.

I dont pretend to understand why jews do what they do. They are enigma.

Hispanics

Hispanics are obviously a huge problem for Americans. But there are good hispanics and bad hispanics. I remember while watching hispanic television stations, the shows and even the commercials were more White than our own. They have respect for White beauty, and a good portion of hispanics are White. It is a well known fact that White hispanics make up the elite of most hispanics countries. There is good White blood worht saving in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and even Brasil.

But they are still our enemies.

East Asians

I have great respent for the East Asian races. Even if we were to go extinct they could carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races.

Patriotism

I hate the sight of the American flag. Modern American patriotism is an absolute joke. People pretending like they have something to be proud while White people are being murdered daily in the streets. Many veterans believe we owe them something for “protecting our way of life” or “protecting our freedom”. But im not sure what way of life they are talking about. How about we protect the White race and stop fighting for the jews. I will say this though, I myself would have rather lived in 1940’s American than Nazi Germany, and no this is not ignorance speaking, it is just my opinion. So I dont blame the veterans of any wars up until after Vietnam, because at least they had an American to be proud of and fight for.

An Explanation

To take a saying from a film, “I see all this stuff going on, and I dont see anyone doing anything about it. And it pisses me off.”. To take a saying from my favorite film, “Even if my life is worth less than a speck of dirt, I want to use it for the good of society.”.

I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.

Unfortunately at the time of writing I am in a great hurry and some of my best thoughts, actually many of them have been to be left out and lost forever. But I believe enough great White minds are out there already.

Please forgive any typos, I didnt have time to check it.

—  Dylann Roof’s Manifesto
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Born on this day…

February 11, 1813

Harriet Jacobs: Writer, Abolitionist

Book: 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a slave narrative that was published in 1861 by Harriet Ann Jacobs, using the pen name “Linda Brent.” The book is an in-depth chronological account of Jacobs’s life as a slave, and the decisions and choices she made to gain freedom for herself and her children.

Quote:

“No pen can give an adequate description of the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery.”

Additional Quick Read:

Professor Sheds Light on Harriet Jacobs’ Path to Freedom  

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September 3rd 1838: Douglass escapes

On this day in 1838, famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in Maryland. Douglass was born into slavery, and when he was around twelve years old was taught the alphabet by the wife of his plantation owner. The young Douglass was soon able to read and write fluently, but had to keep his literacy a secret as slaveholders decided that an educated slave was dangerous. When it was discovered that he was teaching other slaves to read, Douglass was sent to a ‘slave breaker’, who frequently and brutally whipped him for alleged ‘insubordination’. Douglass’s education, and his experience of the horrors of enslavement, refined his critique of the institution of slavery. Douglass successfully escaped from his enslavement in September 1838, using the papers of a free sailor to board a train headed North, eventually arriving in the New York safe house of abolitionist David Ruggles. Douglass went on to become a prominent abolitionist, famous for his eloquent oratory and his intelligence, which disproved slaveholders’ claims that slaves were not intelligent enough to be free. He published multiple narratives of his life in slavery, which drew attention to the injustice of slavery in the Southern states, and campaigned for civil rights issues in the antebellum era. Douglass continued the fight for equal rights after the Civil War and emancipation, advocating the enfranchisement of African-Americans and women. In 1872, the radical Equal Rights Party nominated him for Vice-President - with feminist activist Victoria Woodhull for President - making him the first African-American nominated for the office. Frederick Douglass died in 1895, aged seventy-seven.

“On Monday, the third day of September, 1838, in accordance with my resolution, I bade farewell to the city of Baltimore, and to that slavery which had been my abhorrence from childhood.”
- from ’Life and Times of Frederick Douglass’, 1881

The "Sleight of Hand"

A slave from Mississippi named William Webb was told by his mother that he had spiritual gifts. He struggled with his understanding of the gifts but nevertheless, he accepted them and called it “sleight of hand”.

Once, he heard about a plantation where slaves had been subjected to an extreme level of cruelty and brutality, so harsh that he was compelled to go help them. After his arrival, he came upon individuals who immediately recognized his gifts, and the slaves took turns describing to him all what they endured on that plantation. More importantly, they told him that they had been praying and praying and praying for some sort of relief, and then he showed up.

That night after midnight they stole away to celebrate. They took a lamb, slaughtered it and gave it as an offering, then baked it in a dirt oven. William described three older women dressed in white, as leaders of the festivities. They danced, frolicked and ate the lamb. A few days later, an elder approached William in astonishment, saying that he lived on that plantation for fifteen years and never had he seen any changes in the cruel master until now. Once William was assured that his work was effective, he decided to go home but not before making root bags for the slaves so they could continue to be protected by the “sleight of hand”.

—This is my retelling of the story as told by then ex-slave and rootworker William Webb to a recorder of slave narratives

anonymous asked:

Any tips on writing a slave/former slave?

OKay 

I will try? I do not promise much, my apologies. I tend to stay away from slave narratives.

Disclaimer: I’m white (polish, so my family has a history of forced labour and all sorts of nasty things happening to them)

It depends on how your character became a slave. Were they born free and captured, or were they born into slavery?

People who were born into slavery may not have the life skills to survive outside of slavery. They’ll be irresponsible with finances because they’ve never had to manage any, and a lot of the labour they’re qualified to work will be not that different from slavery. Post slavery becoming illegal in the United states, freed slaves were kept in horrific conditions, couldn’t find work and began to die in scores due to illness or hunger. The guardian did a quick article on it here. You should also check out the emancipation of the serfs  in the USSR

I mean, it’s a little hard to say ‘how to write a slave’. It depends on the owner, as well. Slaves may actively reject the idea of leaving a good owner because there’s the risk into falling into the arms of a bad owner. There’s all sortss of media with slaves in them to take inspiration from. The 2013 manga of The Prince of Arslan by Hiromu Arakawa has slavery as a main theme within it, and shows many different slaves and the conditions in which they are kept, and how that effects the outcome of the slave.

The more horrific the conditions, the more rebellious the slave, but slaves kept in good conditions may not wish to leave.

As well, the more horrific the conditions, the more affected the slave. If they were whipped, they’ll have scars. If they were deprived food, they could have lowered one mass. The mental effects of being treated as a ‘thing’ are horrible and long lasting.

It also doesn’t help that most slaves belong to a different ethnic group than the slave owners and are easily recognizable as ‘other’, which makes getting a job difficult.

Slaves that were born free, and did jobs involving life skills are going to be more able to function as a free person. People born into captivity are less likely to escape, and are less likely to succeed on the outside.

I don’t know my guy. It’s a big question with a big answer.

If you want your character to stay free in a realistic manner, I’d have them be born free, explicitly work a job involving life skills, and have some kind of a paying job hire them right away that is either owned by other freed slaves or allies of a kind, or even by a friend that they made during their tenure as a slave.

I don’t feel like this was a very good answer. If you want more specific info, please just send in another question, okay?

The Black Book

Middleton A. Harris (Editor), Toni Morrison (Foreword by),

Bill Cosby (Introduction)

Ernest Smith (Editor), Morris Levitt (Editor)

Seventeenth-century sketches of Africa as it appeared to marauding European traders. Nineteenth-century slave auction notices. Twentieth-century sheet music for work songs and freedom chants. Photographs of war heroes, regal in uniform. Antebellum reward posters for capturing runaway slaves. An 1856 article titled “A Visit to the Slave Mother Who Killed Her Child.”

In 1974, Middleton A. Harris and Toni Morrison led a team of gifted, passionate collectors in compiling these images and nearly 500 others into one sensational narrative of the black experience in America: The Black Book.

The Black Book remains a breathtaking testament to the legendary wisdom, strength, and perseverance of black men and women intent on freedom. Prominent collectors spent months studying, laughing at, and crying over these materials–from transcripts of fugitive slaves’ trials and proclamations by Frederick Douglass and other celebrated abolitionists to chilling images of cross burnings and lynchings, patents registered by black inventors throughout the early twentieth century to vibrant posters from “Black Hollywood” films from the 1930s and 1940s.

A labor of love and a vital link to the richness and diversity of African American history and culture, The Black Book honors the past, reminding us where our nation has been, and gives flight to our hopes for what is yet to come. Beautifully and faithfully presented, and featuring a new Foreword and original poem by Toni Morrison, The Black Book remains a timeless landmark work.

CultureSOUL: THE ANCESTORSAlabama Plantation c. 1850s: DELIA GARLIC

“She sat on her front porch and assailed the taking of young children from mothers and selling them in different parts of the country.” (WPA Slave Narratives Interviewer, Margaret Fowler)

"’Dem days was hell. Babies was snatched from (their) dere mother’s breast an’ sold to speculators. Chilluns was separated from sisters an’ brothers an’ never saw each other again. "Course (they) dey cry; you think dey not cry when dey was sold like cattle? I could tell you ‘bout it all day, but even then you couldn’t guess de awfulness of it. It’s bad to belong to folks (that) dat own you soul an’ body; dat can tie you up a tree… Folks a mile away could hear dem awful whippings. Dey was a turrible part of livin’.”

Delia Garlic (Text & Photo) Fruithurst, Alabama c. 1936-1938

It’s been about fourteen hours and I’m still really emotionally messed up about the end of the Bartimaeus Trilogy.

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Nine Ninety-nine Cents African American E-books

Great Speeches by African Americans: Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, and Others by James Daley  [BOOK LINK]

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois  [BOOK LINK]

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes  [BOOK LINK]

Unmistakably Black: Sculpture and Paintings From The World’s First Civilisation by Anu M'Bantu  [BOOK LINK]

Twelve Years a Slave: Plus Five American Slave Narratives, Including Life of Frederick Douglass, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Life of Josiah Henson, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Up From Slavery by Solomon Northup  [BOOK LINK]

Narrative of Sojourner by Sojourner Truth  [BOOK LINK]

Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington  [BOOK LINK]

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson  [BOOK LINK]

When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection edited by Norman R. Yetman  [BOOK LINK]

Getting to know the Archives: Rare Books

What is a rare book?

Recently J. Murrey Atkins Library celebrated the donation of the two millionth volume; a rare copy of the slave narrative, Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (London, 1793, 6th ed.), donated by Dr. Julian Mason and his wife, Elsie. But what makes any book rare? Our favorite cataloger, Joseph Nicholson answers this question in today’s post. 

Establishing a clear demarcation between “rare” books and “ordinary” books is not an easy matter. Age, for instance, is often considered to be a defining attribute of rare books, but not all old books are rare, and some recently published books are in fact quite rare. The autograph of a famous author on a book’s endpapers may seem to make it inarguably rare, particularly if the book also includes the author’s bookplate and marginalia; but an autograph alone is not necessarily an indication of great rarity or value, as thousands of such specimens are now produced at crowded book signing events by authors flogging their latest bestsellers. Though an elaborately decorated binding can seem an indication of great rarity, it may prove on closer examination to be the bibliographic equivalent of cheap knockoff wear, showy garb that adds no value or distinction to what is inside. All that glisters is not gold.

What generally determines a book’s rarity is not some predictable checklist of features but something more ineffable: the supply of the book falls short of the demand for it. In other words, the book is difficult to obtain or replace. There are several characteristics that may place a book in this category. Age is one, certainly, despite the caveat above. Books published before 1501 are without question rare, as are English books printed before 1641, books that were printed in North and South America before 1801, and books printed in the South and west of the Mississippi before 1850. Good physical condition will tend to increase the value and hence the “rareness” of an older book, while missing pages, a damaged spine, and other signs of significant wear and tear will decrease it. Books that have seminal, path-breaking importance in their subject areas, controversial texts that were once suppressed or outlawed, and first editions of notable works of literature or history are generally rarer than books with a more ordinary history and more humdrum content, for the simple reason that books with a distinguished or troubled past tend to be scarcer. Striking physical characteristics like original color plates, fine illustrations, and distinctive bindings also increase a book’s rarity.

Yet no failsafe formula for determining whether a book is “rare”—admittedly a rather arbitrary category—exists. What seems rare to the untrained eye may in fact not be. A miniature artist’s book published by a notable small press a decade ago may be more rare than a handsomely decorated edition of Dickens’ collected works from the late 19th century. A limited, signed book by a famous poet published last year could exceed in rarity an elementary school primer from the 1880s. Making astute judgments about what is rare and what is not requires care, discrimination, patience, and the ability to weigh several complex types of bibliographic evidence.

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Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, is one of the earliest examples of a slave narrative.  In it, Equiano describes his abduction from Africa, his separation from his sister, his forced voyage through the Middle Passage, and his life as a slave.  After Equiano purchased his own freedom in 1767, he moved to Britain, feeling it unsafe to remain in the British colonies as a freed African; there, he became one of the leaders of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group made up of Africans living in London.

The book was very successful and went through eight editions before Equiano passed away in 1797.  Pictured here, we have here the third edition, which was published in 1790 and bears an engraving of Equiano on the frontispiece.