At the gates of heaven God will ask, Did you bring it?
By Bruce McKinney
The purpose of book catalogues is to sell books. In the modern era there have never been more books and fewer catalogues because the world has moved on to bigger and worse things. The net is amazing but it doesn't yet convey the significance of material as effectively as catalogues, the endangered species of the book business. In the real world clams, snails, insects, arachnids and crustaceans all have their advocates and their places on the endangered species list. But where if not here can a voice be raised in support of the time honored printed declaration of a book's significance and value. Catalogues offer the opportunity to present unified perspective on a subject be it 19th century fiction, letters of the American Revolution or the literature of Shakespeare. For the collector the focused catalogue is a tour of specific territory complete with headliners, showstoppers and sideshows. It's a way to inhabit a subject and to ultimately want to own it.
There are in fact many exceptional cataloguers today and we review many of their efforts in AE Monthly. We celebrate all catalogues as the fundamental efforts that support and sustain book collecting. But truth be told we don't see efforts of this magnitude often and so it's appropriate to recognize it as an exceptional example.
One of the great practitioners of the cataloguing arts has issued what is becoming an annual catalogue of Livres Precieux. This is of course Bernard & Stephane Clavreuil who conducts their business as Libraire Thomas-Scheler at 19, rue de Tournon in Paris. In issuing this catalogue they overcomes three hurtles: material, clients and will. Recently there has been some discussion of resurgence in the issuance of catalogues and we'll hope this trend is both real and enduring. In the meantime we celebrate this exceptional effort which is too rare today.
Livres Precieux is not strictly a catalogue. It's a book of 149 pages, a bibliography, history and sales document: a permanent record. Each item is entombed in open space, the 56 co-conspirators tastefully separated, an orphanage of star pupils all hoping for a good home, all aware they are the privileged. Future auction houses will reference its 56 items and descriptions and the prices paid will be higher as a consequence.
Shall we start with Colomb? This for those who need to ask Colomb is Columbus whose name crowns cities and towns and even circles if you live in New York City. This is the first printed notice of the New World, an eight page pamphlet that carried news to transform our understanding of the world. This is of course a Columbus Letter and this is the Roman version printed by Stephan Planck in 1493.
An important book, a sumptous binding
The Clavreuils describe it as "Premiere et rarissme edition latine do la letter de Christophe Colomb annoncant las decouverte de L'Amerique." Strictly speaking he didn't say that. L'Amerique was added about 20 years later. Colomb actually thought, or hoped, he was in the Indies because he told Isabella that's where he was going.
The price of this item, nicely bound as only the French can do, is P.O.R. Other items in the catalogue are priced and they run to EURO 500,000 so we know this one is higher. The appropriate way to learn about it is to visit Paris for an inspection and discussion.
Then there is a copy of Marco Polo printed in Venetia by Mathio Pagan in 1555. For support in purchasing this book collectors of the New World will find aid and support from none other than Joseph Sabin who includes Marco Polo in his Bibliotheca Americana and says:
"The travel of Marco Polo in the East claim a place in an American collection in consequence of the remarks of distinguished geographers that they were persuaded by Columbus, and that the revelations made by him of the wonders of Cathay and Zipanga stimulated the great navigator to accomplish through the sea, what the Venetian traveler had by land." It is priced at EURO 35,000.
For the same price there is a sumptuous copy of Joao de Barros' translation of Ulloa's first two decades of Travels and Conquests. Sabin mentions this book as well. This copy was printed in Venetia in 1562 and was bound for Giacomo Boncampagni, Duc de Sora. It is a sumptuous example.
For those whose thirst for things French was not quenched in high school and particularly for those enamored of Rabelais there is the opportunity to acquire "Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel...", printed in Paris by Richard Breton in 1565. This is the original edition so students who latter suffered at the hands of Rabelais can trace their pain to this date. It is illustrated. The binding is exceptional as is the price EURO 135,000.
Then there is Argote de Molina's Libro la Monteria que mando..." printed in Seville in 1582. This is the first Spanish treatise on hunting and includes material on lion and tiger hunting in Mexico and ostrich hunting in Peru. EURO 50,000
A very desirable book
Next there is Giovani Paolo Gallucci's "Theatrum Mundi et Temporis..." printed in Venise by Ioannes Baptista Somascus in 1588. Copies of this come up. Sothebys sold one for BP 6,000 in 2005 and Christies another copy this past June for BP 5,400. The Thomas Scheler copy is a bit more: EURO 350,000. It is also quite different. It is a large paper copy and hand colored for a Pope. It of course has an appropriately regal binding. It includes a hand colored map of the new world and so will not be out of place on the mantle or under a tree anywhere in the western hemisphere.
For those afflicted with a love of early Shakespeare there is item 28, "The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, newly imprinted and inlarged, according to the true and perfect Copy last printed." This is the fifth quarto edition and seventh overall. Its provenance is impeccable reading as a who's who of collectors and dealers over the past 200 years: [Probably] Richard Heber, then Thomas Rodd, Duke of Devonshire, Henry Huntington, G. D. Smith, John L. Clawson, A. S. W. Rosenbach, Martin Bodmer, Bernard & Stephane Clavreuil and soon the next link in this extraordinary chain -- possibly you. The price, oh yes. The going price of guaranteed immortality is EURO 200,000.
And one more to consider: Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, the first French edition printed in Paris by Bagnerre in 1862. It is issued as 10 volumes and bound as 8, this being a large paper copy with 20 illustrations in color by Castelli and Neuville. If you still have any money left this one is EURO 70,000.
To make inquiries contact the Clavreuils at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All 56 items are accessible via this link for AEM readers. For AE members this material is also now included in the AED. The saying is "read 'em and weep." For this volume let's change it to "read it and celebrate."