Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - March - 2011 Issue

Very Early Manuscripts, Leaves and Books from Phillip J. Pirages

Pirages60

Early manuscripts, leaves and books from Phillip J. Pirages.

Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts recently published their Catalogue 60. Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern (Mostly Illuminated) Manuscript Material as well as Books Printed before 1700 and Single Printed Leaves. What we have here is mostly very old, much written and illustrated by hand, mostly valuable for its artistic as much as its textual content. Each of those "mosts" have exceptions, but this is primarily antiquarian to very early work, often from the earliest days of printing (incunabula) or manuscripts older still. This is a collection of fine material that will appeal to the most serious of collectors. Here are just a few samples of the over 450 items herein offered.

 

Item 119 is a leaf from the first Bible printed in America. You might think such a Bible would be in English, or maybe Dutch or French or Latin. Instead, it is in the Algonquin language, barely in use any longer. This one is known as Eliot's Indian Bible, published in 1663, and it was the first of many Bibles printed in America to convert the various native tribes to Christianity. While one might think someone would have been publishing English language Bibles in America sooner, there was no pressing need. There were sufficient copies of English Bibles arriving from England to eliminate any urgent need to print the same here. Indian language Bibles, however, were not being printed in Europe, so it was necessary to create them here if one wanted to conduct a mission to the Indians. Eliot was a Massachusetts minister who undertook the massive job of translating the Bible into a language that previously had no written words. Priced at $2,500.

 

The year 1663 was early for printing in America, but the art was by then over two centuries old in Europe. During printing's first half century, the most thorough compendium of world history was a book today known as the Nuremburg Chronicle. Published in 1493, Hartmann Schedel of Nuremberg published this large, illustrated history of the world, going back to creation and running until just before Columbus set sail for the New World. Item 36 includes eight leaves and a bifolium from this work, each being offered separately. Most contain woodcut illustrations. Prices range from $20 (unillustrated index leaf) to $300 (illustrated bifolium).

 

Very early printed works in English are less common than those from Europe, notably Germany, as the latter is where printing began. Nonetheless, there was printing during the 15th century in England, starting with that of William Caxton, then evolving to his successor Wynkyn de Worde. Item 45 is a leaf from The Lyf of Saynt James the Lasse. This was a fourth edition, printed in 1498. The first two editions were printed by Caxton, while this one and the third came from de Worde. Item 45. $450.

 

Some books were older still. Item 19 is a leaf from Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine, circa 1479. It contains a woodcut of Paul on horseback, shielding his eyes from a blinding vision of Christ. The contemporary colorist has added a touch of his own, as Pirages explains, "An object, probably intended to be a crucifix but looking rather more like a tomahawk has been added to Paul's upraised hand…" $250.

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