IRVING, Washington (1783-1859) as “Diedrich Knickerbocker.” A History of New-York, From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty… New York: Inskeep & Bradford, et. al, 1809.

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2 volumes.12mo., (7 ⅛ x 4 ½ inches). (A bit browned and spotted throughout). Fine folding frontispiece of “New Amsterdam” (tape repair along crease, a bit spotted). Contemporary tree calf, the smooth spines in six compartments, red morocco gilt lettering piece in one (expertly rebacked preserving the original spines, edges slightly worn).


Provenance: With ink stamp and contemporary manuscript ownership inscriptions of C. G. Strohecker, 19th-century physician.

First edition, first printing. A beautifully bound copy of Washington Irving’s first major work, a satirical history of New York. “It is not difficult to elicit from its pages a fair proportion of legitimate history. Indeed, it will not be saying too much, to assert that a large portion of the readers of the present day owe their knowledge of the history of New York to the interest created by this unrivaled performance” (Sabin).

Prior to its publication, Irving started a hoax akin to today's viral marketing campaigns; he placed a series of missing person adverts in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a crusty Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the ruse, Irving placed a notice—allegedly from the hotel's proprietor—informing readers that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind. Unsuspecting readers followed the story of Knickerbocker and his manuscript with interest, and some New York city officials were concerned enough about the missing historian that they considered offering a reward for his safe return. Riding the wave of public interest he had created with his hoax, Irving—adopting the pseudonym of his Dutch historian—published “A History of New York” on December 6, 1809, to immediate critical and popular success.

“Originally intended as a burlesque of historiography and heroic styles of epic poetry, the work became more serious as the author proceeded. Diedrich Knickerbocker, the putative narrator, begins with a mock-pedantic cosmogony and proceeds to a history of New Netherlands, often ignoring or altering facts. Descriptions of early New Amsterdam landmarks and old Dutch-American legends are included in the history, as are the discovery of America, the voyage of Henry Hudson, the founding of New Amsterdam, the ‘golden reign’ of Governor Wouter van Twiller, and the hostility of the British, who were based in nearby Connecticut. The book’s portrait of the overeducated, belligerent governor William the Testy (Willem Kieft) is actually a Federalist satire of Thomas Jefferson. The history concludes with the rule of Peter the Headstrong (Peter Stuyvesant) and the fall of New Amsterdam to the British in 1664” (Encyclopaedia Britannica online). Howes 5260. BAL 10098. Grolier ‘English’ 135. Grolier ‘American’ 28. Sabin 35149.