Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - July - 2010 Issue

Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts from Samuel Gedge Ltd.

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Catalogue VIII of antiquarian material from Samuel Gedge Ltd.


By Michael Stillman

Samuel Gedge Ltd. Rare Books has issued their Catalogue VIII. It contains no further title, which is understandable as there is a wide variety of material offered. There are not only books, but numerous ephemeral paper items, and a few not made from paper. The material can all be fairly described as "antiquarian," ranging from a century and a half to many centuries in age. A few manuscript items are even older than printing itself. Samuel Gedge offers a most fascinating assortment of material, primarily of British origin. Let's take a look.

Item 19 presents a reminder of a long ago medical "cure." It is a manuscript account of the number of persons "touched for the Evill" along with medals presented between January 1682 and July 1683. The number so touched was 4,566. In those days, it was believed that being touched by the King could cure one of the "King's Evill," a disease now known as scrofula (a form of tuberculosis that attacks the lymph nodes). This would have been one of the drawbacks of royalty - having to make physical contact with thousands of diseased persons. Nevertheless, King Charles II must have been sufficiently happy with his restoration to take on this responsibility toward his subjects. It is estimated that Charles "touched" 100,000 victims during his reign, with his most active day during this period being February 11, 1682, when he touched 379. Offered is a manuscript account by a Dr. Montagu Clerk of the Closet of people touched on each day, and of medals commemorating the touching they were given. Priced at £450 (approximately $662 in U.S. currency).

We don't know whether King James touched the sick, but he did sign passports. Here is proof. Item 60 is a passport for Sir John Vans of Barnbarroch, dated August 16, 1602. The Vans, or Vaus, or Vaux, were noble people from Scotland, Sir John's father having served as Ambassador to Denmark. It is unknown whether Sir John was on a mission for his King or simply on a visit, but whatever the reason, King James provided him with a passport good for seven years to visit various European lands, or wherever he might choose to go. Among the safeguards provided are that no other travelers or mariners transporting him shall accuse Sir John of criminal activities. This passport is signed by James as James VI rather than James I. At the time, he was simply King James VI of Scotland. The following year, with the passing of Queen Elizabeth, he would become James I of England. £4,000 (US $5,882).

Item 105 is a pamphlet from 1588 that was apparently meant to be frightening. It is titled Le vray discours de l'armee, que le Roy Catholique dom Philippe... It is a French translation of an accounting of the Spanish Armada, originally published in Spanish. It describes the name and type of each ship in the Armada, along with data on the size of their crew and weaponry. It was reputed to have been ordered printed by King Philip II to dishearten the English, its intended victim. As we know from the benefit of hindsight, the English were not frightened, and went on to thoroughly whip the Spanish Armada. £3,750 (US 5,512).

Item 5 is a 14th century document relating to the Church at Mende (southeast France). It is an uncommon type of document not just for its age (May 31, 1393) but because it comes from the Church at Avignon, under the rule of Antipope Clement VII, during the Western Schism. The schism arose after French Cardinals, under threat of mob violence in Rome, helped elect Pope Urban VI. They soon came to regret their move, as the new Pope came across as arrogant and subject to fits of temper. The French Cardinals thereby chose to revoke their vote, excommunicate Urban, and set up Clement VII as Pope in Avignon. It was during this period that the document here offered was created. The schism would continue until 1417, by which time there were three claimants to the position of Pope. A council was held, two resigned, and while Clement's successor refused to follow that lead, even the French government signed onto the arrangement and Church authority was for the most part restored to Rome. Since it was Urban, not Clement, who was elected by the traditional rules, the Church does not recognize Clement as a legitimate pope. £1,250 (US $1,839).

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