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Much the earlier work in the Swann Galleries (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) sale was a copy of the Vocabulario manual de las lenguas Castellana, y Mexicana of Pedro de Arenas.

Printed in Mexico in 1611 and bound in contemporary vellum, this was a slightly stained but rarely seen complete first edition copy of a popular Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary that went through some 16 editions over the succeeding centuries.

Grim reading

The catalogue entry for the other lot sold at that sum, the manuscript diary of an officer of the 7th Michigan Cavalry, James Wallace Bentley, charged with protecting emigrants on the Overland Trail to America’s western lands in the summer of 1865, was headed with the words ‘Scalping, Torture, Kidnapping, Circling the Wagons’.

It makes grim reading in places and the longest and most harrowing entry describes a series of attacks on emigrants near Cooper Creek, Wyoming.

Welcome to the Catskills

The top lot of the sale on September 24, at a much higher than expected $36,000 (£28,345), was the guest register of the Catskill Mountain House. Built on the precipice of a steep cliff and a major tourist attraction, this was also a venue that once served as the spiritual home of the artists known collectively as the Hudson River School.

The names of Thomas Cole, William Cullen Bryant and Frederick Edwin Church are among those whose names appear on its pages.

Sold at $7000 (£5810) to an institutional buyer was a copy of William Billings’ Music In Miniature…, a 32pp collection of psalm tunes.

Nicely preserved and uncut in plain wrappers of the period, this was the work of a Boston music teacher and composer who has the added distinction of being the first American composer to issue a volume of his own music.

In all, Billings issued six compilations of sacred music from 1770-94 but this was the first of two which he published on his own press.

The cataloguer also noted that music was not a full-time profession in 18th-century New England and Billings supplemented his income with work as a tanner, street-cleaner, and as hog reeve – the latter, I find, being a person charged with the prevention of, or appraising of damages caused by stray swine!