Two little block printed gems

As readers of this blog and members of We Love Endpapers know, Simon is always on the lookout for new and unusual decorated papers. Recently, he came across a fantastic example of Italian block-printed endpapers on a little Armenian book:


A copy of Preces Sancti Nierses Armeniorum patriarchae Turcice, Graece, Latine, Italice, et Gallice redditae, published in Venice, 1815, at the Armenian press at the Monastery of St. Lazarus. The vermiculated pattern is one we see quite frequently on Italian papers of this period.

As luck would have it, we would soon after came across another copy in a similar publisher’s binding, this time with sunny yellow block printed endpapers:

The bindings are nearly identical on each copy, employing paste paper-covered boards and the same gold tools (see below). Evidently, the Armenian press at the Monastery of St. Lazarus produced a number of these, and they were bound identically but with different papers for each copy. We have since tracked down a couple of other copies in institutional hands that are bound the same way.

To find out more about these items and all our other offerings, check out our fair list for Firsts. We hope to see you there!

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From the library of Edmund Burke

As readers will know, we are based in Chesham, just a twenty-minute drive from Edmund Burke’s former home in Beaconsfield. Though his estate, Gregories, no longer exists (it was burned down in a fire in 1813), it was a treat to recently stumble across one of the books from his library:

The book, an apparently unpublished eighteenth-century Italian manuscript, describes an easy method for learning the fundamental rules of the Italian language. The text is divided into over thirty-five individual sections, including lessons on the articles; grammatical gender; plurals; superlatives; diminutives; personal, demonstrative, and possessive pronouns; the interrogative; cases; accents; and conjugations (a full listing of topics available on request). Following the introductory lessons are four dialogues about travel, finding lodging, etc., with Latin translation on facing pages.

Although Burke (1729–1797) never went to Italy, he had intended to visit with Samuel Johnson, but ‘neither Burke nor Johnson was destined to achieve the “grand object of travelling” [i.e. visiting Italy]. Johnson was disappointed when the Thrales abandoned their journey to Italy on the death of their son. In Burke’s case, the project was superseded by an even more ambitious enterprise’ (Lock, Edmund Burke I, 249), namely the purchase of his 600-acre estate Gregories, in 1769, where he lived until his death. His library was auctioned off in 1833 along with that of ‘a near relative’ by Mr R. H. Evans at his home, No. 93, Pall Mall. The sale, lasting three days and comprised of 664 lots, realised £383/19/4 (Cone, Edmund Burke’s Library, p. 153).

For more on this manuscript, and to see all of our recent acquisitions, check our our newly-released list for Firsts London, available in PDF form by clicking here.

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A steel-faced etched plate, ‘From the inventor’

Printing and illustration processes never fail to interest us, so it should be no surprise that we will be bringing a printing plate to Firsts.

This particular plate was presented ‘from the Inventor’ to Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey (1781-1841), one of the most prominent sculptors of the day, noted for his sterling reputation and ‘penetrating study of character’ (Grove Art Online). 

From what we can surmise (i.e. several hours consulting nineteenth-century patents at the BL), this is an etched steel (i.e. iron)-faced brass plate. It has been signed unobtrusively within the image (‘Poole, Patent’), which we believe refers to Moses Poole of Chancery Lane, ‘one of the most prominent patent agents in the unreformed period’, who ‘had almost a monopoly on the patent agent business’ and is responsible for numerous printing patents (Dutton, The Patent System and Inventive Activity During the Industrial Revolution, p. 87).  Records show he filed numerous printing-related patents, including one in 1839 ‘for improvements in casting for printing purposes’; maddeningly, the actual patent, as filed, does not give the name of the inventor.

The plate serves as a snapshot of the rapid development of illustration processes in the early- to- mid-nineteenth century.  The technique of steel-facing was a process ‘in which a thin layer of iron (not steel) was deposited by electroplating on the surface of a copper plate, after engraving and before printing.  The resulting surface [of steel-faced plates] was not so hard-wearing as a steel plate, but as soon as it showed signs of deterioration it could be chemically removed and a new layer deposited on the copper.  The copper plate itself remained therefore in pristine condition, and engravers returned to working on the more friendly metal, confident that an indefinite run of impressions could be produced without danger of the more delicate lines beginning to vanish’ (Gascoigne 13b).

Come visit us at Stand G09 at FIRSTS to have a closer look at this plate and all of our other fabulous offerings this year. We hope to see you there!

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In blind-stamped velvet

In anticipation of Firsts, we thought we would highlight one of our favourite ‘firsts’: a first edition, first issue of Chroniques Françoises de Jacques Gondar (Paris, Firmin Didot for Louis Janet, 1830), in a stunning blind-stamped velvet binding.

First edition, first issue, ‘tirée à petit nombre’ (Brunet) .

The book, which presents itself as a reproduction of a medieval manuscript, was published by Francisque Michel (1809–1887), who ‘found’ Gondar’s manuscript in a group of old parchment and tatty books and proceeded to reproduce it in facsimile for his fellow bibliophiles.

This was, however, an elaborate fiction: the book is a literary forgery, entirely of Michel’s creation.  The hoax was concocted during the 21-year-old’s time in Paris in 1830, which he spent with a group of like-minded Romantics and bibliophiles, before he became the medieval scholar he is remembered as today.  The lack of date on the title, and the various bindings in which it survives, has confused bibliographers and booksellers since, but Barrière* identifies two printings, in 1830 and 1836.  The present copy is from the first issue, and has been coloured and illuminated by hand.

For more info on Michel’s literary hoax, and to see what else we will be bringing to Firsts, stay tuned for our fair list, which we shall be releasing soon!

*For more on the bibliographical quirks of this book, see Didier Barrière, ‘Un petit Francisque Michel: médiéviste, bibliomane romantique, mauvais élève de Charles Nodier’, Fragmentos 31 (2006), pp. 113–140.

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Caroline Watson, engraver to Her Majesty the Queen

Less than a month to go until Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, and we find ourselves busily putting together our fair list. This year we have a variety of material we hope you will enjoy, including one of my current favourites: a striking example of copperplate engraving printed à la poupée on silk:


The silk print depicts Elizabeth Margaret Hay-Drummond, née Marshall (d.1798), and her two children Caroline Edith (c.1788–1865) and Robert William (1786–1861).

The plate was engraved by Caroline Watson (1761–1814), ‘a remarkably talented pointillist (dry point) and mezzotint engraver’ (Benezit). She was one of the few women who maintained an independent practice as an engraver and signed her own work, rather than working anonymously in the family business. She also, it would seem, cultivated a largely female clientele; many of her prints were dedicated to women and engraved ‘with a female audience in mind’ (Oxford DNB). Watson was also the engraver to Queen Caroline.

Together with the silk print, we are pleased to be offering two of its ‘siblings’, as it were: a proof and a print, both on paper, from the same plate, forming a delightful little snapshot of late eighteenth-century illustration processes:

From L to R: the silk, the proof, and the print

For more info on Watson and to see our other highlights, stay tuned for our Firsts London fair list; and if you plan on attending the fair, do stop by stand G09 and say hello!

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Meyrick’s Arms and Armour

If you’re on the mailing list, you may have already seen our latest list of recent acquisitions,which includes everything from Anderson’s Cook in the original wrappers (c.1785), to one of the earliest books to be printed in Russian Braille (1886). One of our favourites is a (very) large quarto with over 150 full-page lithographs of arms and armour from the collection of Samuel Rush Meyrick, published in 1836.

How very Monty Python of the artist.

The present edition, published in Berlin, is the first and only edition in German, and is scarce in such nice condition. The original, Joseph Skelton’s Engraved Illustrations of antient Arms and Armour, was published in two volumes in London in 1830.

Both feature lithographs of arms and armour from the collection of Samuel Rush Meyrick. Meyrick (1783–1848) was an antiquary and historian who began to acquire his famous collection in the 1820s. His obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine describes the collection as ‘filling not only “the garrets, the staircase and the back drawing room” but as even encroaching “upon the bedrooms”’–i.e, he must have been the medieval armour equivalent of a bibliomaniac.

Happily, however, he was less of a hoarder and more of a scholar-librarian, keeping the collection open to students and scholars. In 1825 it was visited by the artists Eugène Delacroix and Richard Bonnington, who both drew items from the collection and made use of them in later works. Meyrick also helped, among others, Sir Walter Scott in collecting arms and armour to decorate his new house at Abbotsford (Oxford DNB).

For more on this and other recent acquisitions, check out the PDF here.

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Love, Hate, Ambition, and Edinburgh

Though we’ve only just returned from New York, we find ourselves preparing yet again for a fair: this time, the 2019 Edinburgh Book Fair.

In preparation we have compiled an expansive list, ‘Spring Miscellany’, of the books that we shall be bringing this year, available for browsing here. We are particularly excited to be bringing a rare first edition in German of the first two volumes of the Scottish playwright Joanna Baillie’s Plays on the Passions (publ. 1798 and 1802, respectively; the third did not appear until 1812):

Rare first edition in German of Baillie’s Plays, published in 1806.

The plays are divided into three volumes by ‘passion’: Love (Count Basil, The Tryal), Hate (De Montfort, The Election), and Ambition (Ethwald, The Second Marriage). The first volume, published anonymously, famously had London abuzz with curiosity as to the author’s identity, and it wasn’t until the third edition, published in 1800, that Baillie revealed herself as the work’s creator. The translator, Carl Friedrich Cramer (1752–1807), was a theologian, bookseller, and journalist who also translated Rousseau and Diderot into German, as well as Klopstock and Schiller into French. He was a staunch supporter of the French Revolution and lived in Paris until his death.

If you plan on attending the Edinburgh book fair, do stop by and say hello. You will find us at stand 23, happily sandwiched between the fabulous McNaughtan’s Bookshop and Gallery and Neil Pearson Rare Books. And for those of you looking for something to do that Friday evening, Simon will be giving his very first public reading of his recent translation of Friedo Lampe’s At the Edge of the Night at the Edinburgh Bookshop during their Friday night speakeasy, where G&Ts will be served. Come and join us!


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Elsa Béreny: 1930s German Dancer Living Her Best Life

As I write this the sun is streaming in the window of our Chesham office. Spring, it seems, is finally upon us, which means something even more exciting is just around the corner: the 2019 New York Antiquarian Book Fair.

This year we’re bringing some great material, including the first book on figure skating, published c.1773; some beautiful decorated papers; two fabulously designed Russian type specimens from the 1930s; and an impossibly delicate and intricate straw marquetry box from the early 1800s. My favourite among them all is a little more modest, but brings me pure joy nonetheless: Elsa Béreny’s Reise-Erinnerungen einer Tänzerin.

The camera clearly loves her.

Privately printed for her in 1933, the book recounts her experiences of being a dancer on tour in the interwar period. Her stops include Bosnia, Italy, Belgium, England, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, and Poland. Though she clearly wasn’t famous, and none of the cities she visits seem very glamorous (she visits Hull, Newcastle, Durham, Darlington, and Sunderland in the UK, for example), one can’t help but get the impression that she had one hell of a time.

The photographs are a mix of Elsa in costume (the range of her performance styles is extraordinary), and posing in front of various sights. A curious inclusion is a shot of Chief White Horse Eagle, of the Osage tribe, ‘the oldest man in the world’, standing next to William Penn’s grave in Buckinghamshire, just around the corner from our office. Postcards with photos of her in costume occasionally pop up on the internet, and I would dearly love to get a hold of one. It’s not everyday you get to see someone just going for it, and living their best life.

We will be selling Elsa’s book this year at the fair, along with a host of other fantastic materials. For more, check out our fair list PDF, or swing by stand C33 at the fair itself.

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Countdown to California

Ladies and gents, the countdown has begun!

If you follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook you might be wondering why we’ve been posting photos of wobbly toys and flamboyant Italian men. The answer is, of course, because we can, but it is also because we are in love with one of our recent acquisitions: an art nouveau-influenced card game by the incomparable Florentin Garraux.

Garraux (1859-1950) was a Swiss painter best known for his miniatures, bookplates, vignettes, and in particular his unique ‘Künstler-Postkarten’ which he drew for his friends. Here he has created a complete card game along the lines of the British game ‘Happy Families’, with 100 exquisite original illustrations.

There are 25 sets of 4 cards, each with its own unique theme. Humour meets art nouveau in a delightful, and oftentimes unexpected, way in Garraux’s work, and we are excited to include it in our offerings for the 2019 California Antiquarian Book Fair.

To see the rest of the sets and the stunning matching vellum box (also painted by Garraux), keep on eye on our social media as we continue our countdown, or email us for a copy of the fair list.

See you in sunny California!
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Stinde in Simla

There’s nothing better than finding a cheeky marginal doodle or two, and that’s what we found when we picked up an otherwise nondescript copy of Julius Stinde’s Buchholzens in Italien at a recent fair.

First published anonymously in Berlin in 1883, Stinde’s satirical travel novel arose out of an 1881 trip through Italy, and pokes fun at the archetypal German abroad.  The reading public not only took the jab in its stride, but with zeal, and Stinde’s novel went through many editions, and gave rise to a number of sequels, before the turn of the century. 

Our copy has some fab drawings by (who we presume to be) Walter G. Young of Marburg / Calcutta / Simla / Brussels, who signed the half-title. Young was evidently a traveller himself, and a polyglot: on the verso of the same leaf, he translates the same phrase into German, Italian, English, Spanish, Russian, and French: ‘Kindly remove fingers off the pencil drawings, if on them!’ We have complied.

Even the title page sports a faux Indian imprint, written in Young’s best imitation of printed type:

For more info on this travelling travel book, check out our latest list of miscellany here.

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