Old English Books from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books
English Books & Manuscripts from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books.
By Michael Stillman
Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books has recently published a catalogue of English Books & Manuscripts to 1800. This is a collection varied by topic though consistent by printing location. Those with a focus on English history, from the days when the letter "f" was used for "s," and "y' was often used where we now employ an "i," will enjoy this collection. Some material nonetheless pertains to other lands, and we have even managed to ferret out a few pieces of Americana for those whose focus is on the other side of the pond. Still, this is primarily a very English assortment, and a most fascinating one at that. Here are a few samples.
One "Humphrey Clinker" (pseudonym) provided a guide to protecting oneself from Scotch "rogues," petty criminals of their day. The book is The hidden mystery of the Scots rogues newly brought to light: being a complete discovery of their intrigues all over the nation; with cunning trick they practice to deceive the unwary: with a plain and easy method to avoid or catch them. The circa 1790 book's stated purpose is to reveal the intrigues of these people who go about the country "stealing, cheating, drinking, quarreling, fighting, swearing, extortioning, slandering, and railing against such as will not give them what they ask." They certainly sound like a most unpleasant lot. Item 20. Priced at £700 (British pounds, or approximately $1,287 US dollars).
It seems that even British soldiers were given to bad behavior on occasion too. The case of the Island of Minorca...includes a plea from the natives of this Mediterranean island to the British to control the activities of their troops. The plea notes, "the continual thefts, robberies, rapes and the murders they committed have struck such a pannick among the peasants..." Evidently military discipline was a little short in those days. Item 66, circa 1717. £1,600 (US $2,942).
Here is my favorite title: Holl ddyledswydd dyn a osodwyd ar lawr...Welsh is certainly an interesting language. This is a translation of Richard Allestree's "The whole duty of man." Item 1, published in 1718. £400 (US $735).
Privateers were used by the European powers to do their dirty work on the high seas. Privateers were, in effect, licensed pirates, permitted and encouraged to commit piracy on the ships of a rival land in return for a payment to the state. The rest of the loot went to the privateers, which is why they signed on in the first place. Item 80 is An ordinance and declaration of the Lords and Commons...authorising any of his Majesties good and loyall subjects...to furnish with all manner of warlike provision, and send to sea what ships...they shall thinke fit, to ...seize upon by sea or land, going to assist rebels in Ireland. This is an open invitation to anyone to engage in piracy against any ships assisting rebels in Ireland. The privateers were authorized to seize all goods, money munitions, and anything else they could find, including the ships themselves, and after paying 10% to the crown, were free to keep the remainder for themselves. Item 80, dated October 21, 1642. £950 (US $1,748).
Old English Books from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books
A Survey of London and a Treasury for the Diseased.
During the coldest of winters, Londoners used to participate in what was known as the "Frost Fair." These took place on the rare occasions when the Thamas River would freeze solid, allowing fairs to take place on its frozen surface. They were held as early as the freeze of 1683-84, while item 34 pertains to what may have been the last, 1813-1814. The title is Frostiana: or a history of the river Thames in a frozen state... This book was printed on a portable press dragged onto the Thames, and recounts this and earlier fairs and severe cold weather, along with a discussion of "the art of skating." £750 (US $1,381).
Item 109 includes the first British printing of the U.S. Constitution. Published in 1787, it is headed Plan of the new constitution for the United States of America, agreed upon in a convention of the states. This copy belonged to Scottish peer Alexander Fraser, and contains some of his interesting marginal notes. For example, when it comes to the election of the House of Representatives, he observes, "It is not said in what manner the representatives are to be chosen, if every person is to have a vote, or if a limitation of property will be introduced." This is probably the only copy of the Constitution bound together with nine pamphlets pertaining to the East India Company. Apparently Fraser's wife was the daughter of a director of that company. £5,500 (US $10,121).
For those with an interest in Elizabethan London, item 102 is A survey of London by John Stow, published in 1598. This book includes a history of the city, a discussion of major landmarks and features such as the London Bridge and Thames River, a description by wards, and mentions of churches, hospitals, even leper houses. For a most complete look at the London in which Shakespeare grew up, this is an excellent resource. £4,500 (US $8,280).
Item 113 is the rather oddly titled A rich store-house, or a treasury for the diseased. Back when it was published in 1650, many people of limited means could not afford to go to the doctor. Sort of like today. The book was meant "for the benefit and comfort of the poorer sort of people that are not of ability to go to the physitians." Among ailments and procedures covered are blood-letting, corns, deafness, stincking breath, lice or nits, and even the plague. The writer, George Wateson, was himself a "physitian." £2,500. (US $4,601).
Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books may be found online at www.shapero.com, or reached by phone at +44 (0)20 7493 0876.