Rare Books in the Arts and More from Charles Wood
By Michael Stillman
Charles Wood Antiquarian Booksellers' latest catalogue, One Hundred Nine Rare Books, or "Catalogue 122," lives up to its name and Wood's reputation. Certainly these are rare books, all 109 of them. And, most fit within the types we have come to expect from Charles Wood, high quality printing and illustrating, with a concentration of titles in artistic realms, such as architecture, perspective and gardens. A few of the items we found in this collection of uncommon books follow.
Item 12 is a 300-year-old book that is very current as it is filled with images we were watching on television for days. The title is Numismata Summorum Pontificum Templi Vaticani fabricam...by Filippo Buonanni, the 1700 edition of a book first published in 1696. This is described as the first thorough survey of the architectural history of St. Peter's. Buonanni used unpublished manuscripts, published literature, medals minted over the centuries, as well as other sources to reconstruct the history the site. The book includes many illustrations and plans (not all actually put in place) to reconstruct the building as it has appeared over the ages. Priced at $4,500.
Item 46 is a rare American architectural book on Newport, Rhode Island. Newport is one of those very pricey communities where the wealthy of an earlier generation built summer homes, or "cottages." Indeed the price of the book indicates it was intended for the well-heeled - $50. That may not sound outrageous, but the year was 1875. I cannot imagine what $50 was worth then, but rest assured it was more than most people could spend on a book, probably on a house. The writer was George Champlin Mason, the premier resident architect of Newport at the time. This book was limited to 100 copies and is an elegant production (according to Mason, it cost $30 a copy to produce not including any payments to the author). The title is Newport and its cottages. $4,000.
Here is a book for those who love to dance: The Rudiments of Genteel Behavior by Francois Nivelon. This 1737 book was designed to introduce the British to the subtleties of dancing the minuet, things better understood by the French. The steps and movements were supposed to exude an air of class. Sort of Sunday afternoon fever. The book comes in two parts, one for women, one for men. Women are taught how to curtsey, walk, dance, and give their hands. Men learn how to salute, bow, and, of course, dance. Not that men pay attention to directions. Item 56. $8,750.
Stealing other authors' material is neither genteel nor polite, but that is evidently what was done in The Polite Academy; or school of behavior for young gentlemen and ladies intended as a foundation for good manners and polite address in Masters and Misses... The book offers detailed instructions on how to behave in public, and includes plates demonstrating how to bow, give your hand, etc., when dancing the minuet. Wood notes that "the similarity of some of these plates to the...[preceding book]... is so striking that one may safely say they were copied (although badly...). This is a later edition (circa 1823) of a book first published in 1762, but all editions are now rare. Item 74. $1,350.