Shapero Rare Books of London has issued a catalogue of 50 Fine Books 2012. These books are “fine” in the sense that they are beautiful books or related items, works of art as well as function. Mostly, they are beautifully illustrated books, or paintings, or they are fine press types of books. Among the beautifully illustrated books offered are many pertaining to birds. I had no idea there were so many fine bird artists not named Audubon or Gould. This catalogue provides detailed descriptions along with images of the items, appropriate to the material presented. Here are a few of these fine books.
Pierre-Joseph Redouté is undoubtedly the most famous artist of roses, but he was not the first. That honor belongs to Mary Lawrance, a noted flower painter and teacher of painting in London around the turn of the 19th century. Miss Lawrance gathered up specimens from various gardens in the area to create her paintings. In 1795, they were put on display at the Royal Academy. From 1796-1799, she published A Collection of Roses from Nature, in 30 parts. It contains 90 hand-colored plates of roses, four at least partly captioned in Miss Lawrance's hand. This collection is regarded as a breakthrough in the illustration of roses, a trail that would be followed by Redouté a few years later. Item 36. Priced at £57,500 (British pounds, or approximately $90,075 in U.S. Dollars).
For those who wish to see how the other half lives, or the 1% lives, or more accurately, the 1 one-millionth of 1% lives, item 1 is the plans for William Kissam Vanderbilt's Hippodrome de Carrieres-sous-Poissy outside of Paris. William was a grandson of railroad and shipping magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. As such, he inherited a fortune of $55 million in the late 19th century, when $55 million was still serious money. Though his money came from iron horses, he had a love for those made of flesh and bone. He was a founder of the Jockey Club, and owned the American Horse Exchange in Manhattan (back when there were horses in Manhattan). He also owned several mansions in America. In the early 20th century, he set up shop in France, building a chateau (French for mansion) in the countryside outside of Paris. His Hippodrome adjacent to the chateau was designed, not for hippos, but for horses. It included stables and three race tracks, with a long wall separating the horses living quarters from those of the people. The large, four-sheet plans are hand colored. €20,000 (US $31,332).
Item 17 represents a massive scientific and learned undertaking by France's Academy of Sciences: Description de l'Egypt... In 1798, Napoleon, still a general, not an emperor, led a mission to seize control of Egypt. The purpose was to annoy with the British, and in particular, as a base for interfering with their India trade. It was also an opportunity for Napoleon to build his reputation. The invasion was successful, but internal rebellions, attacks by Turks, confrontations with the British, and disease made Egypt a hard place to hold. A year later, Napoleon would sneak through British blockades to return to France, where despite the setbacks, he was still regarded as a hero. The rest is history. However, this massive compendium of information is not about Napoleon's military exploits. Napoleon took 167 scientists and other men of letters, headed by Vivant Denon, along for the ride. The purpose was to learn everything there was to know about Egypt, from its antiquarian history (they discovered the Rosetta Stone) to its natural history to its current state of affairs. This information is presented in 21 volumes. However, while Napoleon had gathered the information as part of a plan to colonize Egypt, by 1801, the last of their troops were forced from the land. These volumes were not published until 1809-1813. Even then, Napoleon wanted the information published though he no longer was focused on Egypt. £135,000 (US $211,325).