The Lakeside Classics have covered America in space and time, from Honolulu (1966) to Three Years in the Klondike (1967) and from The Western Country in the Seventeenth Century (1947) to Skyward (1981). Sent as gifts from R.R. Donnelley & Sons, and never sold by the company, the palm-sized volumes form an invaluable resource for people who want to read primary documents about Americans in history. Since the first volume, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1903), the series has leaned toward first-person narratives, the reminiscences or journals of those who saw firsthand the building of the nation.
Not unnaturally, a fair number of volumes cover Illinois and Chicago. The four volumes published from 1912-1915 collect the reminiscences of Chicagoans who saw the city grow between 1834 and the Great Fire of 1871. Other volumes leaning toward local history include Wau-Bun (1932), A History of Illinois by Governor Thomas Ford (1945 and 1946), and A Woman’s Story of Pioneer Illinois (1919).
The Newberry Library Book Fair generally has a nice row of Lakeside Classics for sale, but this year the supply has been enhanced by the collection of a man who collected them from 1909 to his death in 1938. Three of the Chicago Reminiscences volumes are included, along with Wau-Bun, and other volumes dealing with adventures farther afield: Six Years With the Texas Rangers (1943), Forty Years a Fur Trader (1933), The Conquest of the Illinois (1920), and Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Lenard (1934).
Stop at the Collectors’ section this year and look over the green/red/brown/black volumes, whether you’re a collector trying to make up a complete set, or just looking for a volume or two on the history of the American frontier. Mention Wau-Bun at the right (wrong?) moment and you may also get a free lecture on early Chicago history.