The news that an original copy of the first New York directory, published in 1786, had been found recently among a lot of old books in Los Angeles has aroused considerable interest among dealers and colectors of rare books in this city, but, like the gentleman from Missouri, they are in a condition of wishing “to be shown” before accepting the alleged find as original.
The 1786 New York directory is one of the rarest books in the entire realm of Americana, but it is also the object of more suspicion to the expert bibliophile than perhaps any other old volume that suddenly comes to light from an unknown quarter. It is so long since an original has been sold that it is hard to predict what it would bring if offered in the auction room, but the general opinion is that $1,000 would be a bargain price. The last one that changed hands at private sale is reported to have brought somewhat over $1,200. Naturally the discovery of a genuine copy is sufficient to create interest, but the hold-time dealer is apt to regard such information with a shurg of the shoulder and mutter the word “reprint.”
I searched for a copy online, and sure enough you can find one of the reprinted editions on Google Books. It differs from the original in its inclusion of a map and description of what New York was like in 1786 written by Noah Webster. It also adds an index of changed street names.
The original directory was compiled by a man named David Franks. Who was he? The article notes that “beyond his ambitious effort to establish a directory publication in New York little is known outside of the statement that he makes at the end of his book telling prospective customers that he is a conveyancer and accountant.”
DISCOVERY OF NEW YORK’S RARE 1786 DIRECTORY (PDF)
From February 12, 1911