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Investigating the Book

STEELE'S POPULAR ZOOLOGY

THE START

       Joel Dorman Steele was born to a Methodist minister and his wife on May 14th, 1836 in Lima, New York, near present day Rochester. Moved often by his father to different towns and farms, Dorman, his preferred name, didn't let the constant movement keep him from learning all he could. Though known as a frail boy, Dorman's brain was strong and he pursued education with a passion. By seventeen, Dorman had become a teacher near Batavia, New York, at a country school.

       While working as a clerk for the Methodist magazine The Advocate, the magazine editors recognized Dorman's potential and got him writing book reviews. His reviews garnered the attention of a book publisher who persuaded him to enroll at Genesee College in 1854. After graduation, Dorman pursued a career in education, taking a job in Oswego County, Mexico where he met Esther Baker, a music teacher and his soon-to-be wife. They married in 1859 and eventually, due to the Civil War, moved back to New York. Dorman fought in the Peninsula Campaign and sustained injuries to his already frail frame. Eventually, Dorman's passion for education grew into the development of school books, with the help of his equally passionate wife, Esther. The first book they published was A Fourteen Week Course in Chemistry." The sheer volume and number of titles that followed, especially 

because of how popular they were, are impossible now to quantify. After Dorman's death in 1886, a week after his 50th birthday, his wife continued to edit revisions of the remaining titles until her death in 1911. Slowly the Steele name disappeared from the subsequent editions during the 1920s but many were continually printed until the Second World War. The scope of American public education was shaped and changed by one determined New Yorker and his wife, both with the passion for learning.

THE BOOK

       This particular copy of Steele's Popular Zoology was the last book printed with Steele's actual involvement. This was published in 1887, one year after his death, in its first iteration. Since these books were so popular, it is hard to pinpoint where exactly this particular book circulated. Although the marginalia in the book is rife with a name, poetry, and art, there are no dates or places. The young boy whose name remains in the book, Ed Austin, is the presumed artist and author of the marginalia found. There are two other names in the back cover of the book that have been heavily crossed out, making it impossible to make them out in full. These are probably names of previous owners, or possibly the name of the teacher from whom the class on zoology and naturalism was taught.

       Most of the marginalia is notes or extremely well done illustrations of cells and insect parts, presumably for study. There are, however, two poems copied into the back end pages. The one on the left reads: "Around her waist I put my arm,/It felt as soft as cake,/ Dear me, says she, what liberty/ You printer men do take." This poem could only be found quoted from another Georgia magazine in the Atlanta Constitution on March 13th, 1891, in defense of the freedom of press. There is more to this particular verse, as well as another stanza that ultimately reads: "I gave another kiss, and then/ Says she, 'I do confess,/ I rather kinder sorter like/ The freedom of the press.'" While this may be a hopeful location for our marginalia writer, it's hard to be certain, especially since the facing 

poem can only be found in the Burlington Gazette from Iowa in January of 1896. This poem reads: "After reading to her the latest news,/ He said he'd give all creation/ If she would just express he[r] views/ On the political situation./ Her little hand in his she lay,/ And whispered with sweet reflection,/ 'I have no use dear for free trade,/ What I want is your protection.'" In the version of this poem printed in the Burlington Gazette, instead of "want" the word is "need," and it seems interesting both the change of this word and the choice of poem, of both poems, by young Ed Austin.

       As far as locating the author of the marginalia or where the book circulated, it is truly hard to say. No amount of digging could unearth for me where Ed Austin now rests, nor why the poems, paired in this back cover, are from two different newspapers. There are a few conjectures that I will put forth; one: this is a university book, one which Ed Austin bought for his studies and wrote in, going to school in one town and going home to another, though unlikely. The second, that it could be copying down the pure, unadulterated plagiarism of other circulating papers, ones with poems that were never signed by anyone in particular, and no one would have any idea where to start tracking them down. These newspapers may not have been, and probably weren't, the only papers printing these poems, or even the first. The poems could have appeared years earlier elsewhere and somehow made their way to the small towns of Georgia and Iowa in the 1890s, and only surviving in their newspaper records. The last conjecture is that Ed himself wrote the poems, and eventually sold them off to newspapers; this one seems fanciful but if true (though it can't really be proven) would be an interesting look into the process of an author and how finished they can be with a piece of work at a certain point, or even just the surfaces they chose to use. Of course, we can't really know, but the conjectures are fun avenues to tread, especially since, though I know his name, I haven't been able to find Mr. Austin.

       The practice of copying poems for personal keepsake was not uncommon, neither in this era or in the ones before it, so if Ed liked the poems well enough to write them down it would make sense that he would write them somewhere that he would be able to refer to them or even recite and memorize them. These are not the only keepsakes that Ed left in the book either: found between the pages of the introduction is a wrapper for "Kis-Me" orange flavored gum, made in Louisville, Kentucky. This gum was very popular among younger crowds during the 1890s, and the first fruit-flavored gum on the market. Most people during the period saw chewing gum as a disgusting habit, but the fad grew into the gum industry we know today. "Kis-Me" gum, whose slogan was "Far better than a kiss," was also the first to implement prize incentives for its customers; collect a certain number and send them back to the company and the company will send you small printed cards, an album of portraits, or, in later years, pins with the "Kis-Me" logo on them, a woman's profile in a crescent moon. This one wrapper may have been one of many, or the only, kept safe in a book close at hand in case he ever had the opportunity to turn them in.

THE MARKET

The previous price, $5, the amount that I paid for it, is still in the book, along with the booth number where I found it in a Pennsylvania antique store. The highest price that I can find for 

it, in the same condition (minus the marginalia of course), is $15, which makes sense since these books so saturated the American textbook market of the late 19th century and were constantly being edited and revised. Since I have a little bit more research on mine, the marginalia mystery as well as the "Kis-Me" gum wrapper (which can't be found market because it's so ephemeral), I would probably put this book at about $20-25. The market may find this too high for just the book, but with the wrapper and the potential desire for the marginalia, it may be just right for someone looking. To find out how I got to this price, click here to visit the worksheets page.

All works used are listed in the bibliography under this biography's title heading.

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