Antiquarian and Fine Books from Phillip J. Pirages
Books from the fairs.
Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts printed A Sampling of Our Items at the California Antiquarian Book Fairs. The fairs are over, but the books, some of which have been around almost five centuries, live on. There is a mix of material in this selection, but most falls into the categories of either fine press/manuscripts or bindings, or classic antiquarian titles. Exceptional condition is a common element of the material throughout. This catalogue is an excellent source for those who collect at a high level. Here are a few examples.
Item 18 is a book that combined science and art like few others ever have. It is John James Audubon's The Birds of America. Over an 11 year period, Audubon drew his birds in exquisite, and artistic, detail. The drawings were works of art, even if his intention was to accurately portray nature to his readers. The first edition, in the huge double-elephant folio size, was finished in 1838. That book is the most expensive printed work ever sold at auction, selling for many millions of dollars whenever it comes up for sale. Unfortunately, it didn't make much money for Audubon. It was so expensive to produce that few could afford to buy it. Audubon decided he needed to offer a smaller, more affordable edition of his work. Offered is a set of that first, smaller octavo edition, published from 1840-44. This edition proved to be far more successful financially for its creator. Priced at $95,000.
Here is another work that apparently also is very attractive, but perhaps its title explains its lesser appeal: A Practical Treatise on the Breeding Cow. It is bound in half calf, no pun, I'm sure, intended. This 1833 work by Edward Skellett includes 13 striking hand-colored folding plates, “showing the various stages of bovine gestation and presentation.” Pirages notes it is “A Guide to pregnancy and delivery in cows that is unusually fine, unsurprisingly rare, and unexpectedly beautiful.” Item 57. $850.
Next we will take spectacular appearance to another whole level. Item 30 is a 1903 limited edition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Evangeline. It was printed, and illuminated throughout, on vellum. Then it was bound in a spectacular Cosway-style brown morocco binding by Riviere & Son. Finally, it has been adorned with 14 fine oval miniatures painted on ivory under glass. The artist, Pirages notes, was almost certainly the renown Cosway and fore-edge artist Miss C.B. Currie. It is probably safe to say this book was not meant for reading. $85,000.
For those who find the above too conservative, there is a Sangorski & Sutcliffe bound copy of Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance. The book itself may not be a great masterpiece, but the binding is mind boggling. It's a virtual jewelry store. It contains rubies, amethysts, turquoises, chalcedonies, garnets, sapphires, and bands of mother of pearl. Altogether, the binding contains 226 jewels. There is even a hand-painted Cosway-style portrait on ivory of the author. The book itself is an uncommon 1817 first edition, but not so uncommon as this binding. Item 36. $55,000.
Item 117 is an item that will appeal to collectors of angling, and in particular, of the classic of all classics in the field, Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler. It is a collection of 180 copies of the book, including 162 editions (and a few related works), in 208 volumes! They start from 1655 (second edition) and run through 2003. Pirages notes the collection contains the vast majority of all printings, including all but two of 16 editions published before 1800, “rare translations, illustrated versions, and hard-to-find reprints...all in excellent condition.” $120,000.
Antiquarian and Fine Books from Phillip J. Pirages
A spectacularly bejeweled Lalla Rookh.
Item 121 was a book ahead of its time, but quite influential nonetheless: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792. While author Mary Wollstonecraft's assertions seem tame and obvious today, the claim that women should receive an education comparable to men, or have similar legal rights, seemed outrageous to many at the time. However, she made many people think, and her work would be considered important and pioneering by a generation who sought voting rights and equality for women in the following century. $19,500.
One of those people who thought Wollstonecraft's ideas outrageous was Thomas Grisborne, an Anglican curate, writer, and amateur geologist. He was also a biblical literalist and theological traditionalist. He wrote this book to correct the “errors” he found in Ms. Wollstonecraft's thinking: An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex, published in 1798. He argued for a traditional female role based on what he considered to be the differences in the basic nature of men and women. He believed women to be suited for domestic and household chores, but their nature was not sufficiently serious for pursuits such as politics or science. Women's “acknowledged” superior imagination, he said, had its downside. It resulted in “a tendency to lead to untidiness of mind; to fondness of novelty; to habits of frivolousness, and trifling employment; to dislike of sober application; to repugnance of graver studies...” You get the drift. In 1798, you could say such things and be taken seriously. Under further review, his words revealed Grisborne to be the possessor of an “untidy mind.” Item 122. $950.
Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts may be reached at 503-472-0476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.pirages.com.