Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2006 Issue

Swann Americana Sale February 2nd


Palto Alto before high tech.

Lot 66 is a volume printed by Isaiah Thomas in 1794. It is William Perry's Royal Standard English Dictionary. This is an impaired copy, lacking the title page. Other parts of Swann's description seem drawn from emergency room dialogue including "quite worn, rear cover detached, a couple signatures sprung, browning and scattered staining." There is a similar copy on Abe for $100 and a better one for $325. It's the third Worcester edition. [Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, 1794] The estimate is $200 to $300.
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Lot 71 is Thomas Dobson's Encyclopaedia; or, a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature . . . The First American Edition. 592 (of 597) engraved plates and maps; lacks a world map from volume 7, 2 plates from the husbandry section of volume 8 and 2 plates from volume 18. 21 volumes, including the 3 volume supplement. 4to, modern 1/2 leatherette over 19th century boards; 4 text leaves lacking from volume 7 (pages 785-792), terminal 2 text leaves lacking from volume 8, directions to the binder leaf lacking in volume 11, 3 plates from volume 15 misbound at the front of volume 16; else minor scattered foxing, staining or edge tears. Philadelphia: Dobson, [1790]-1803

Swann describes this as a scarce set of the first American edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the first encyclopedia published in America and continues "As it was issued in parts over a lengthy period of time, sets are rarely found complete. The plates, engraved by Scott, Thackara, Valance and others, cover a multitude of topics including natural history, geography, science, engineering and more. Indeed, some of the images -- such as the anatomical plates -- constitute the earliest illustrations on those subjects produced in America. The text is largely derived from the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, though it does include some original submissions by Americans, including Jedidiah Morse. The work was printed by Dobson on American-made paper with a new type cast by Baine & Co. The title pages to each volume (except the Supplement) carry the date 1798, as they were issued after the final volume had been published."

For the book collector of early America and the 18th century in particular such material is exceptionally useful. Evans says of it "[F]rom various causes, chief among which were, its irregular manner of publication, and the period of years required in its printing, copies of the work are uncommonly found even in the older and larger libraries, and all have some peculiarities or defects . . . When the risks of publication are considered, the courageous and admirable manner in which the publisher carried out the work to a conclusion, gives the name of Thomas Dobson, of Philadelphia, a high rank in the book-publishing annals of this country"--Evans 22486.

This set is substantially complete and includes the three volume supplement. Copies show up from time to time, most of them simply a part or if a set, usually with some issues. The estimate is $2,000 to $3,000.
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