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.